Officials warn of scammers targeting holiday shoppers online

Officials warning about holiday shopping scams Scammers are taking advantage of the increased number of people shopping online this year because of the pandemic, officials warn. As more people stick to doing their holiday shopping online this year because of COVID-19, scammers are taking advantage to try to find new […]

As more people stick to doing their holiday shopping online this year because of COVID-19, scammers are taking advantage to try to find new victims, the Office of the Attorney General warns.

“With retail sales forecast to increase over 2019, an ever-growing number of consumers relying on e-commerce to fulfill the family wish list,” the warning from Attorney General Chris Carr’s office says.

Cybersecurity expert Peter Tran said thieves are taking full advantage of the situation amid the pandemic this year.

“Everybody is fair game particularly this year,” Tran said. “If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.”

The holiday season is sure to bring an uptick in phishing scams like bogus coupons and websites imitating other websites, Tran said, with the goal of tricking you into voluntarily handing over your personal information. He said if you think you might have fallen victim to a scammer’s trap online, take a deep breath.

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“Don’t panic, call your bank, go online,” Tran said. “Freeze the card, change your password, and also use one of the best-kept secrets around. Your mobile device can be a second form of authentication. That being, when you log into your credit card or try to make a purchase, often times the vendor or the bank will allow you to use your phone to send a text message with a code to make sure that it’s you behind there.”

Here is the full list of things to look out for this Cyber Monday, according to the Attorney General’s website:

  • Beware of bogus websites. Many scammers have set up phony websites offering popular products at below-market prices. They’ll take your money, but you’ll end up with nothing in return. If you want to shop online, do so through reputable, well-known websites only. Avoid clicking on online ads that pop-up in your news feed or social media accounts. You can also check out a company’s reputation through the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org. 
  • Credit cards offer greater protections against fraud than cash, checks, or debit cards. If a transaction turns out to be fraudulent, e.g. the merchant never ships the item or sends a defective product and refuses to refund your money, you can report it to your credit card issuer and request a chargeback. Debit cards often offer a shorter timeframe in which to report fraud and may hold you liable for a higher amount. Plus, since debit card purchases withdraw money directly from your bank account, fraudulent charges could cause you to overdraft your account, default on payments, or incur bank fees and late charges.
  • Beware of package delivery scams. Scammers may send you a text or email that purports to come from the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, or FedEx saying that you missed a delivery or there’s an update about your package. Sometimes these messages include a link or file attachment, which could download malware onto your device. Other times, the scammer is trying to steal your money or trick you into providing personal information. Avoid clicking on these links or downloading any attachments. If you need to track a package, the safest thing to do is to pull up your order confirmation and use the links or phone number provided there. And remember — if you actually do miss a shipment, the delivery company generally leaves a notice on your door or in your mailbox. 
  • Make sure you are donating to legitimate charities.  Many charities solicit donations around the holidays, but scammers like to get in on the action too.  It is very easy nowadays for a scammer to impersonate a well-known charity and even to make that organization’s name and number show up on your caller ID by using spoofing software.  If you do receive a phone call about making a charitable donation, ask the caller to mail you more information; a reputable charity will be happy to comply. If you prefer to make donations online, initiate it yourself by searching for the charity. Avoid clicking on pop-up ads or links from unsolicited emails. You can also research a charity by going to give.org  or charitynavigator.org.
  • Check out return policies. When you make a purchase, ask what the store’s return policies are, especially on sale items. Always keep your receipts in case you have to return or exchange an item.
  • Comparison Shop. Even if a store is advertising discounts, you should still comparison shop to make sure that the sale price is truly a bargain.
  • Guard against identity theft. With the additional purchases that you may be making at this time of year, it can be easy to overlook an unfamiliar charge that is actually fraudulent. So be sure to keep your receipts and compare them to your bank and credit card statement. If you come across a charge you don’t recognize, contact the financial institution immediately. In the event of identity theft, cancel the compromised cards and have new ones re-issued. You should also contact one of the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion – to put a fraud alert on your credit file.

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