Avoid In-Store and Online Holiday Shopping Scams

Online and real-life tips for fighting back against scam artists.

Nov. 30, 2010 — -- The federal government is cracking down on illegal shopping websites -- just in time for the holiday season.

The government announced Monday it had seized and blocked 82 Websites that had been accused of selling counterfeit and pirated goods.

That's one thing you should watch out for. ShopSmart magazine has an article describing the sneakiest new shopping scams.

Click HERE for web-extra tips to keep your finances safe while you shop.

Here are the scams you should watch out for, along with solutions to keep your finances safe.

Scam No. 1: Stripped gift cards.

Thieves look for gift cards displayed on grab-and-go racks at stores. They can then read the code on the back of the card -- underneath the scratch-off strip -- using a handheld scanner.

The Solution: Buy cards that are behind the customer service desk.

Scam No. 2: Unwanted membership programs.

You're shopping online and just before you hit "confirm," there's a pop-up ad with an offer of money back on your next purchase if you join. If you get confused and hit the wrong confirm button, you're automatically enrolled in a pricey membership program.

The Solution: Beware of pop-up windows as you complete your transactions.

Scam No. 3: Tiny unauthorized charges.

These are charges of a few cents that show up on your credit card bill. If you try to call the 800 number next to the charge, nobody answers. The Federal Trade Commission broke up a crime ring in June that racked up more than $10 million this way.

The Solution: Scrutinize every item on your bill.

Scam No. 4: Skimmers that text.

You've heard of skimmers, which capture your credit or debit card information. Well, the thief used to have to go back to the ATM or gas pump to retrieve the skimming device. But now they can rig the device to send your information to them via text message.

The Solution: Pay by credit card rather than debit card so you're not risking your own money. Debit cards offer protection, too, but it can take a couple of days to straighten it out.

Scam No. 5: Smishing.

This is phishing, only via text message. You get a text saying there's a problem with your bank account and you need to call to clear it up. If you use the number provided, thieves try to trick you into giving up your account number and password.

The Solution: Call your bank directly to see if there really is a problem. Don't use the number provided.

Our friends at ShopSmart magazine originally brought these scams to our attention. Click HERE to read more details from ShopSmart magazine.

Web-Extra Tips

Here are some other tips for keeping your finances safe as you shop online this holiday season.

Fred Touchette from AppRiver.com, an e-mail and web security company, suggested the following precautions:

If you get a holiday e-card and you don't recognize the sender, delete it. Do not download any executable programs associated with the card.

Do your homework before you give money to charities any time of year, but especially during the holidays. That's because many charities are fake. To make sure you give your money wisely, check out charities with the Better Business Bureau.

Never provide your personal information in an e-mail to a bank. Poor spelling and grammar can alert you to bank phishing schemes. If an e-mail from a bank doesn't address you specifically, delete it.

If a company that's unfamiliar to you sends you a promotional offer, don't order any products from that company unless you do your research to make sure it actually exists.

Gift cards from online auction sites are likely to be counterfeit, so don't buy gift cards from those sites.

Spammers frequently send fake links to PayPal or eBay during the holidays. Don't follow links directly; type the url into your browser instead.

If you plan on buying from an online auction site, use a seller who has a good reputation and if you're not using a payment broker -- such as PayPal -- use your credit card. If you pay an auction seller with your debit card, you could be handing over your entire bank account. Credit card purchases can be canceled quickly if something goes wrong.

More Web-Extra Online Shopping Safety Tips

Here are some other tips from Symantec Authentication:

You'll know a website is safe from viruses or malware if it displays a trust seal or checkmark.

Before you put your credit card numbers in at a website, check the url carefully to ensure it reads "https." The "s" means all your personal information will be encrypted and kept safe from hackers.

If you still aren't sure about a website's security status, click on the padlock at the right side of your browser's address bar to see more detailed security information.

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