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Safe Shopping This Holiday Season!

October 27, 2021

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As we head into November, the weather starts to get colder, the sun starts to get lower, and the holiday shopping season officially begins! With all the hustle and bustle of Black Friday deals and Cyber Monday discounts, trying to find the perfect gift, this time of year can be perilous for the unwary shopper. Every year around this time, incidents of fraud rise as criminals use the increased shopping activity to scam victims out of money, personal information, or even their purchases themselves.

Before you begin holiday shopping this year, take some time to familiarize yourself with the best practices for shopping safely. "Know Before You Shop" is critical to you having a happy holiday season!

Shop with reputable retailers

It’s best to shop directly with online retailers you know and trust. Bookmark your favorite shopping sites to get there quickly and safely. Avoid typing the name of the retailer into your browser bar.

A tiny typo could land you on a fake site that looks just like the real one. Many scammers create lookalike websites and buy URLs that are similar to legitimate retailers, in order to catch consumers who enter addresses containing typos. You might make a “purchase” on one of these illegitimate sites and unwittingly hand the scammers your credit card number and other personal info.

Vet new-to-you businesses

Did you spot an amazing product from a new seller? Make sure you do your homework and research any business you’ve never purchased from in the past. Look for online reviews and search the Better Business Bureau website for complaints. Check the “contact us” page on the website for a U.S. address and phone number. Then take it a step further: call the business to verify.

Why? The FBI reported that some scammers hijack the contact info of real U.S. businesses to make their shady site look legitimate.

Beware amazing deals

Did you spot an ad on Facebook or Instagram offering rock-bottom prices or an eye-popping offer of free stuff? Reports of lost money from social media scams have more than tripled in the past year, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Remember, if an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is! The FBI found that many sites at the center of its recent spate of complaints were advertised on social media platforms.

Always compare prices before you buy. Abnormally low prices could be a red flag that you’ve landed on a fake site that’s been set up to snag your personal information or steal your money.

Don't browse on public Wi-Fi

Avoid shopping from public Wi-Fi next time you’re sipping a latte at your favorite coffee shop. The guy staring at his phone at the next table could be a hacker spying on your online activity.

Shopping online often requires giving out information that an ID thief would love to grab, including your name, address and credit card number. You should be mindful of your surroundings whenever you're entering personal information; you never know if someone is watching over your shoulder.

Check site security before you buy

Look for a lock icon in the browser bar of a site to verify that they use SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption. The URL should also start with “https” rather than just “http.”

Secure websites are configured to mask the data you share, such as passwords or financial info. Shopping exclusively on secure sites reduces the risk that your private information will be compromised while you shop.

Don’t fall for email scams

You might get emails or texts offering amazing bargains or claiming there’s been a problem with a package delivery. Delete suspicious messages from unfamiliar senders. Don’t open attachments or click links in unsolicited or unexpected messages, because they could infect your computer or phone with viruses and other malware that can steal your personal information or require costly removal.

Guard your personal information

Here’s a general rule: No shopping website should ever ask for your Social Security number. If a site does request this type of very personal information, run in the other direction!

Get in the habit of providing the minimum personal information necessary in order to complete your purchase.

Keep an eye out for fraud

Double-check your bank and credit card statements for fraudulent charges at least once a week. Alternatively, set up account alerts to notify you of any new activity on your card. When you receive a text or email notification, you can check your account to make sure you recognize the charge.

Mind the details

After you make the purchase, keep the details in a safe place. Hang onto the receipt, your order confirmation number and the tracking number the seller provides. If you have a problem with the order, this information will help you quickly resolve the issue.

Track your stuff

After you make an online purchase, keep tabs on it to make sure it’s headed your way. If the merchant refuses to provide shipping information or respond to your requests for the status of your order, contact your credit card issuer for help. They may remove the charge from your bill and look into the matter.

Report scammers

Did you get scammed? If so, file a complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. Tip: If you suspect you may be a victim of ID theft, the FTC offers an identity theft recovery plan.

But following these online shopping safety tips may help you foil scammers and avoid becoming a target in the first place.


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