The holiday season is underway and more than ever, consumers will shop by mail, phone and the Internet. This means greater opportunities for thieves who hope shoppers will drop their guard in pursuit of bargains and hard-to-find items. Protect yourself from fraud for a happy holiday season:
- Check out the seller. Be sure anyone selling though the Internet has a physical address, phone number and clearly posted policies relating to payment, refunds, delivery schedules, and the privacy of your information. Those selling by mail and phone should provide the same information. When in doubt, contact the Better Business Bureau for a reference.
- Be wary of unsolicited phone calls and text messages. Thieves sometimes pose as well-known retailers, offering special deals available only by phone. Shop by phone only when you make the call and to a merchant you know and trust.
Similarly, some fraudsters send bogus text messages indicating there is a problem with your debit or credit card. They are hoping you will call them and "verify" your financial institution account number or card account number and expiration date. Don't be victimized by their tactics. Remember, your Credit Union has your account numbers because we issued them to you. We will not call or text you and request this information.
- Don't email financial information. The security of email cannot be guaranteed and legitimate sellers won't request payment in this fashion. Enter personal and financial information only when there is a "lock" icon on the browser's status bar and look for the URL to read "https" instead of "http."
- Don't open suspicious attachments. Some Internet identity thieves will send spam email offering unbelievable bargains on hot items such as digital cameras, computers and TVs. The email includes an attachment that promises to explain how to obtain the promised item. However, by opening the attachment, you download a program that searches your computer for your personal information and transmits that data to the thief.
- Keep your virus protection software and personal firewall up-to-date. Many software packages have features that allow an automatic check for updated virus definitions or enhanced protection; use these options to guard against hackers and thieves. Don't forget to use hard-to-guess passwords to further protect sensitive data.
- Be careful using unfamiliar ATMs. Need cash on your shopping trip? ATM's are popping up everywhere but some are found in high traffic areas where there are opportunities for thieves to observe your pin entry and use small cameras to film your transaction.
- Know Your Rights. All retailers (including those using the Internet) must ship your order within the time limit they promised in their offer. If they didn't state a time limit they must ship within 30 days of receiving payment. If the retailer cannot ship within the promised date, they must allow you to cancel the order and receive a timely refund.
- Keep Records. Save all documentation related to your purchases, including emails detailing on-line purchases. Make note of all phone purchases, including the phone number you called, when you called and with whom you spoke. Always ask for a confirmation number for your order to quickly reference the purchase if the item fails to arrive or you are not satisfied.
Want more important consumer and personal finance guidance? Contact the financial professionals at BALANCE. As a benefit of belonging to Carolina Trust, certified financial counselors are ready at no charge to you to answer questions and help you develop a personal finance strategy. Visit https://carolinatrust.balancepro.org or call toll-free: 888.456.2227.