Attorney General Chris Carr is providing the following tips for holiday shoppers.
“The way we are making holiday purchases is changing with more sales being made and processed on our phones, tablets and laptops,” said Attorney General Chris Carr. “As our consumer landscape shifts, it is more important than ever to protect your wallet and your identity, and we are offering the following tips to remember while shopping this holiday season. After all, we want Georgians to be able to focus on what is truly important this holiday season, spending time with loved ones.”
Tips for shopping and avoiding scams during the Holidays:
Know who you’re dealing with
Research a company before doing business with them. You can check out a company’s reputation through the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org. In addition, you can do an Internet search by typing in the company name, along with the word “complaint,” “review” or “scam” to see what others have to say.
Protect yourself against fraud
When possible, use credit cards for your purchases. They offer greater protections against fraud than cash, checks or debit cards.
Guard against thieves who may steal packages off your doorstep. If you’re shopping online, consider requiring a signature on the package. Or, if you don’t want to have to make the trip to the post office or shipping office to retrieve your parcel, have it shipped to your work address instead of your home.
Guard against identity theft
One of the best ways to protect yourself from identity theft is to check your bank and credit card accounts frequently. If you come across a charge you don’t recognize, contact your bank or credit card issuer immediately. In the event of identity theft, cancel the compromised cards and have new ones issued. You should also contact one of the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and Transunion – to put a fraud alert or on your credit file. Better yet, be proactive and place a credit freeze on your accounts by contacting each of the three credit bureaus.
Avoid bogus charities
Many charities solicit for donations around the holidays and when natural disasters strike, but scammers like to get in on the action too. They may call you or approach you in person at the store, at your car or come to your door dressed up in holiday costumes, familiar uniforms or wearing a badge or other fake identification. Your safest bet is to initiate contact with the charity of your choice by finding them directly. Avoid clicking on pop-up ads or links from unsolicited emails. You can research a charity by going to give.org or charitynavigator.org.
Stores Can Set Their Own Return Policies
Pay close attention to return policies. Georgia does not have any law that requires a business to provide a refund or accept returns. A business may set its own return policy and may offer consumers cash, in-store credit, exchanges or no adjustment at all. Many stores also set time limits during which they accept returns. While not required to post their policies, businesses must honor any posted refund or return policy.
Be very wary about opening attachments or clicking on links to e-greeting cards, advertisements for holiday deals or notifications about package delivery problems. These may be from scammers hoping you will divulge personal or financial information or who are trying to get you to download malware on your computer. It is safer to go to the original retailer’s website to take advantage of sales. To check the delivery status of a package, you should go to your original online order or confirmation and look up the order status or tracking information.
Don’t give out personal information for a chance to win that cool new gadget or free gift card. Your information can be sold or used to commit identity theft.
How great it would be to win a big cash prize right before the holidays! Unfortunately, your odds of encountering a scammer far outweigh your chances of getting an unexpected windfall. Sweepstakes scams are actually easy to spot. If you are asked to pay money – especially via wire transfer – in order to collect your prize, it’s a scam. And never give out your bank account information to a caller over the phone.
When you receive an email claiming you have an e-card from someone, take precautions. Emails including a link and/or an attachment are being used to infect computers with viruses, malware and spyware. Poor grammar or attachments to the email are telltale signs of a scam. If you have any doubt, delete. If you think the card could be legitimate, contact the sender before opening the card to confirm whether they actually sent it.
Vacation rental scams
If you’re using the Internet to find a last-minute deal for a vacation home for the holiday, watch out for ads that sound too good to be true. Scammers place fake online ads in which they pose as a property owner. They may even copy photos and addresses of actual rental properties. They will get a deposit from you via wire transfer and then disappear along with your money. To avoid these scams, always do a search on the property address and see if there are duplicate advertisements with different contacts. Never wire money because it’s virtually impossible to get it back if the opportunity turns out to be a scam.
A lot of gift card fraud takes place via online auction sites. Scammers sell gift cards, which were often obtained fraudulently, and then overstate the actual value of the cards in the ad listing. So instead of getting a great deal on a gift card, you get a raw deal. In another gift card scam, the crooks will scan or write down the barcode information of gift cards from a public store display. They then replace the card, wait a few days hoping that someone will purchase the gift card, thereby adding funds and activating the card. Then the scammer will use the information he obtained to make an online purchase with the gift card. When the actual gift card recipient attempts to use the card, he or she discovers it has no funds on it. To avoid these scams, don’t buy gift cards from online auction sites and be cautious at publicly displayed racks in retail stores. Before buying a card, make sure the packaging is secure, the PIN number has not been scratched off, and keep your receipt in case you do encounter any problems.
You may have heard about mystery shopping opportunities, where a store pays you a fee to pose as a regular shopper in exchange for evaluating the store’s customer service. While some of these opportunities are legitimate, many of the ads you’ll encounter for mystery shoppers are just a ruse to swindle you out of your money. The scammers may entice you with promises that you can make easy money being a mystery shopper. All you have to do is go to their website and pay a “fee” to register or to get access to a directory of mystery shopping opportunities. Of course, the only one who ends up making money is the scammer who collected the fee. Another twist some scammers use is to tell you your first mystery shopping job is to evaluate the services of a wire transfer company like Western Union. They send you a large check and ask you to deposit it in your bank account and then wire back a portion of those funds. Unfortunately, the check turns out to be counterfeit and now you’ve wired your own cash to the scammers. Remember that legitimate mystery shopping jobs do not require you to pay any money up-front. The Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau recommend information from the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) as a legitimate way to learn more about being a mystery shopper. Go to mysteryshop.org to learn more about being a mystery shopper.
The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division offers a consumer education website, ConsumerEd.com, which guides consumers through making major purchases, managing money and avoiding identity theft. It also provides answers to an array of consumer questions to help you avoid scams and know what your rights and responsibilities are under the law.
To file a complaint about a business that is using unfair or deceptive practices, consumers can contact the Office of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division by visiting www.consumer.ga.gov or calling 404-651-8600 or 1-800-869-1123 (toll-free in Georgia, outside of the metro Atlanta calling area).