The busiest shopping days of the year are just a few days away, and Attorney General Jim Hood is reminding shoppers of ways to protect themselves both personally and financially this holiday season.
“In the past, shoppers only had to worry about someone snatching their wallets to get their cash and credit or debit cards. Now, our account information can be stolen from us even when we are shopping online in the safety of our homes,” said General Hood. “Our credit and debit card payment information can be stolen by an invisible thief who may have hacked into the retailer’s payment system or even our own computer systems. During the holiday season, consumers should exercise extreme caution whether they are shopping at stores or online.”
The following are safety measures from the AG’s Consumer Protection Division:
- Be self-aware.Always park in well-lit areas and try to place purchases in the trunk so valuable items are out of view in your car.
- Know when a deal is too good.The old saying “it’s too good to be true” has stuck around for a reason: if it seems too good to believe, it probably is a scam.
- Keep up with your purchasesby checking credit card and bank statements throughout and after the shopping season. Recognizing an unauthorized user will be more of a challenge during the high volume of the holiday season. Consumers should regularly monitor their credit card and bank statements especially during and following the holidays.
- If your debit or credit card is lost or stolen, report it immediately to your bank.It can take seven to 10 days for a card to be reissued if it is compromised. As a result, shoppers need to be prepared to use cash in the event their card is compromised so that they are not prevented from completing their holiday shopping or essential purchases.
- Understand return policies.If you need to make returns, you want to be sure you do not get caught out of money for not following the return policies set by each store.
- Only buy from trusted stores and salespeople.It’s easy to get into a giving mood during the holidays, but don’t let a generous heart fog your commonsense when unscrupulous salespeople try to take advantage of your wallet. When shopping online, check feedback for particular sellers when applicable. Be wary of sites that have grammatical errors, broken links, or other signs that may indicate lack of trustworthiness.
- Watch out for card “skimming,”both at ATMs, gas pumps, or any other place you may use a debit or credit card. If you see a card reader that appears to have been tampered with, that could be a sign of “skimming,” where criminals install small devices in the machines that steal sensitive financial information.
- Check a website’s security before submitting a payment over the internet.Websites should be encrypted and secure. Look at the site’s URL, which should start with “https” and/or contain a padlock symbol.
- Always use computers or mobile devices with up-to-date software, anti-virus, and anti-malware programs.Never open links or attachments from unknown sources, since this is a way for criminals to steal identities. Do not email financial information.