Louisiana businesses and consumers are gearing up for the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Whether hitting the mall or surfing the web, Attorney General Buddy Caldwell urges caution when knocking out holiday shopping lists. The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section expects an increase in reports of scams during the flurry of the holiday season, and offers the following tips.
Exercise safe shopping in stores. Protect your identity. Remember that losing your credit and debit cards can lead to identity theft. Make sure your wallet is securely tucked away during shopping trips. Beware of leaving your credit card out where others can see it. Do not carry personal information, such as your social security number, in the same place as your checks or credit cards.
Know store return policies. Knowing the store policies on returns can help you decide where to buy. Retailers may lawfully include restocking fees, impose shorter return deadlines, and impose other terms and conditions that differ from non-holiday policies. Also, be sure you understand the return policy on seasonal, sale and clearance items.
Ask for gift receipts. Gift receipts generally include a description of the item purchased but do not disclose the price paid. Without proof-of-purchase, the recipient may be turned down for return or exchange of the item, or risk receiving an exchange at a lower price.
Review your financial statements frequently. Just because your credit card isn’t physically stolen, doesn’t mean your account can’t be compromised through card skimming or other means. Card skimmers use a device to swipe your debit or credit card through a card reader that has been illegitimately set up to record information from your card’s magnetic stripe. After your information is recorded, it is used to make fraudulent purchases or sold on the black market to other scammers. Keep a close eye on your financial and credit card statements. If you find any suspicious activity, contact your financial institution immediately and also report it to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/idtheft or by phone at (877) ID-THEFT (438-4338).
Don’t get caught in an online shopping scam. Look for a secure checkout. Make sure all online purchases are made on a secure website. To confirm a site is secure, check the URL address and make sure there is an “s” in “https://” at the beginning of the address. Then, check the lower-right corner for the “lock” symbol before paying. If there are any doubts about a site, right-click anywhere on the page and select “Properties”. This should show the actual URL (website address) and the dialog box will reveal whether or not the site is encrypted.
When shopping online, pay with a credit card. Purchases made with a credit card provide the most protection. Using a credit card usually allows shoppers to dispute unauthorized charges or charges for items not received. Some card issuers have “zero liability” policies under which the card holder pays nothing if the card is fraudulently used. Check terms and conditions with your cardholder. Never send cash.
Know with whom you’re dealing. Make sure the online seller has a physical address and phone number so you can contact them if you have any questions or problems with your purchase. Try to purchase only from companies you’re familiar with and that have a solid reputation. Do a little homework before entering any credit card information, especially if prices on a site you’ve never heard of are far below those of other retailers.
Watch out for look-alike websites. In a scam known as “cybersquatting”, crooks steal or slightly alter the website address of a well-known company to launch a copycat site that looks exactly like the real thing. The primary function of these fraudulent websites is to collect your credit card information in order to steal your identity or to sell fake or inferior counterfeit goods.
Beware of fake gift card offers. Some scammers use social media sites to promote fake gift card offers with the goal of stealing your personal information. The personal information is then sold to marketers or used for identity theft. Scams may offer a $1,000 gift card to a major retail store to the first 20 people who sign up for a particular “fan page”. To get the gift card, consumers are usually required to provide their personal information and take a series of quizzes for the fake offer.
Lastly, keep records. Always print and save records of your transactions.
For more information or to report a scam, please contact the Louisiana Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline at (800) 351-4889.