With millions of shoppers preparing to hit the road and cyberspace in search of great deals post-Thanksgiving, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is warning Mississippians to watch out for criminals who are looking for easy prey.
The National Retail Federation predicts that holiday sales will increase between 3.6 and 4 percent this holiday season, with consumers spending about $682 billion. NRF surveys predicted that about 164 million consumers were planning to shop on Thanksgiving weekend alone, and increasingly, they’re online. That’s a lot of shoppers, creating lots of targets for thieves.
Before the digital revolution made it easy to order online and have purchases delivered to your door, the main worries for holiday shoppers were pickpockets, purse snatchers and parking-lot crooks looking for tired shoppers with an armload of shopping bags. But now, bandits are also hiding in the bushes along the information superhighway, waiting to pounce on unwitting online shoppers.
“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,” Hood noted in a news release. “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.”
Here are some recommendations, provided by the attorney general’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. (It’s also a good idea to look around for security vehicles or cameras.)
- 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,” Hood noted.
- Keep up with your purchases by 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. Monitor your credit card and bank statements regularly, especially during and following the holidays.
- Report theft of your cards ASAP. 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 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,” Hood advises. “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.” And be sure you’re shopping at a secure site, indicated by an “https” or padlock symbol on the web address.
- Watch out for card “skimming” 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.
- Keep your computer’s security up to date. That means checking your anti-virus and anti-malware features. Never open links or attachments from unknown sources, since this is a way for criminals to steal identities, and don’t email financial information.
One more tip: If you order online, be aware that “porch package” theft has become a big problem in some communities. Thieves have been known to follow package delivery trucks, looking for boxes left on porches and entryways. To foil package thieves, arrange to pick up your packages, require a signature or have them delivered to a place where someone will receive them. Track your deliveries, and sign up for text delivery notifications. You might also consider installing a camera to monitor your front porch.
To report fraud or scams, contact the AG’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-281-4418 or firstname.lastname@example.org.