With the holiday shopping season in full swing, Attorney General Mark Herring is sharing important information that will help all Virginians enjoy this holiday shopping season. Attorney General Herring hopes to give everyone the information they need to have a safe and happy holiday by avoiding common pitfalls and scams that inevitably surface this time of year.
“My team and I work year-round to protect consumers from abuses and to share important information on scams or fraud schemes, but the holidays are a prime time for would-be scammers and criminals to try to separate you from your hard-earned money,” said Attorney General Herring. “I would encourage all Virginians to keep these tips in mind to help make the holiday season safer and to make your hard earned dollars go a little further.”
- Closely monitor all bank or credit card statements for fraudulent activity, and for security reasons, consider using a credit card rather than a debit card. If a credit card is used fraudulently, your potential liability tops out at only $50. With debit cards, your liability depends on when you report the fraud and if you do not do so promptly, you could be responsible for the entire amount. In addition, your checking account may be temporarily frozen if your debit card is lost or stolen. If you can, use one credit card to make all your online purchases. This allows you to easily see if there are charges for items you didn’t buy.
- Before you buy, compare prices for the items you want. Check websites that compare prices for items offered online. If you buy online, keep shipping costs and delivery times in mind. Ask about refund and return policies, especially for sale items. Keep store receipts and print out online order confirmation pages.
- Distractions abound during the holiday season, so when driving or visiting shopping centers, stay aware of your surroundings, even as the excitement of the holidays builds. Drive defensively and leave plenty of time to account for traffic. Try to go shopping in groups or with another person, and stick to well-lit paths and parking areas. Be aware of pedestrians at shopping centers, and don’t leave gifts or discarded boxes from expensive purchases in plain sight, like on the curb or in your vehicle.
- Using a mobile device to shop? Shopping apps can collect a lot of information – your name, address, phone number, email and Social Security number, among other things. Look for apps that tell you what they do with your data and how they safeguard that information.
- Don’t shop online on an unencrypted or open wireless network. They might seem convenient but they are not secure or safe to conduct financial transactions. Only shop on secure sites that use the URL “https.”
- Know what you’re buying and only buy gift cards from reputable businesses. Retail gift cards are sold by retailers and restaurants and can be used only with those merchants. Bank and credit union gift cards carry logos like American Express, Discover, MasterCard or Visa and can be used wherever those brands are accepted. Read the fine print to determine expiration date, if any, as well as fees such as transaction, balance inquiry or inactivity fees.
- The holidays are typically a time when consumers may receive many requests to donate to various charities. Some consumers also like to make donations in the name of others as a holiday gift. Before making a donation, always check out the charity. The following organizations can help provide useful information about charities.
Finally, the holidays are a prime time for scammers to try to separate you from the money you need to buy gifts for your family and friends. Because consumers are increasingly using the Internet to take care of their holiday needs, whether it’s shopping, shipping or sending out cards, cybercriminals are always finding new ways to scam unsuspecting consumers. Keep these points in mind:
- Scammers use website names of popular items and retailers to steal credit card and password information or to install malware on your computer. You may be led to these sites when you do online keyword searches, including terms like “discount toys.” Again, only shop on secure sites that use the URL “https.”
- Fake Shipping Notices – Online shopping means lots of shipping. Many sites provide customers with package shipping and delivery information. Beware of anyone asking for your credentials to check on your package or an email with a link to click that may go to a scammer’s site. It is always better to go to the shipping site yourself and type in the tracking number. Once your package arrives, reduce your chances of thieves stealing it from your doorstep by requiring a signature for all delivered packages. If nobody will be home to accept a delivery, have the package held at the nearest service location for you to pick it up.
- Electronic holiday cards are increasingly popular. But if you send them, make sure you choose a well-known site. Scammers sometimes set up malware-ridden sites that can infect not only your computer, but the computers of the friends and family to whom you send the cards.
The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section helps educate Virginians about fraud and accepts consumer complaints regarding a variety of issues. Virginians may contact the Office to get information on scams or threats, or to file a complaint. Visit our website: www.ag.virginia.gov or call 1-800-552-9963 in Virginia or (804) 786-2042 if calling from the Richmond area.