ST. GEORGE – Holiday shoppers will be spending billions of dollars this season and cyber thieves will be waiting to get their share of the bounty. The Utah Division of Consumer Protection wants shoppers to be vigilant by protecting personal information and keeping an eye out for fraud.
“Be aware that popular gifts attract both bargain hunters and con artists,” Division Director Daniel O’Bannon said, “If you’re looking for this year’s hottest gift, be watchful for fake websites vying for your business and classified ads which may pull a bait and switch with a counterfeit item.”
Holiday sales in 2015 are expected to top $630 billion dollars, according to the National Retail Federation, and most of that will involve some type of electronic device.
“We do each year try and warn consumers of what to watch out for and to be careful,” O’Bannon said. “I think as time goes on and more people are shopping online, and all of the devices and texts continue to increase, opportunities for scams, for fraudsters also increase.”
O’Bannon said shoppers should pay close attention to what permissions they are giving when downloading apps and verify they are using a secure internet connection.
“Make sure you are in the driver’s seat with the decisions you’re making about information that you are giving away,” he said. “When you download an app, it tells you what permissions you’re giving to that app.”
Consumers should be aware they are making the choice to give away information.
“You need to make sure you are comfortable with the information that you’re giving to whoever’s on the other side of that application,” he said.
Despite the hectic pace of the season, O’Bannon suggests slowing down just a bit to prevent bigger hassles down the road.
“People are spending more money right now than they might be at another time of year and … are under more stress,” he said. “Sometimes when we’re under stress to get things done or we have ten different things in our minds as to what we’re trying to accomplish, we make choices that aren’t as good as we might make otherwise.”
If your holiday shopping results in a problem you just can’t manage on your own, O’Bannon and company will be available to help unlucky consumers sort it all out.
“You can always call the Division of Consumer Protection if you have questions, if you need help,” he said. “We really want people to make good choices up front but if there are problems that happen, and there are things that happen, give us a call and see how we can help.”
Tips for shopping smart and safe this holiday season
- Beware of rogue public Wi-Fi spots. Fraudsters will set up shop at popular public Wi-Fi locations and promote “free” Wi-Fi connections to entice consumers to connect their devices. Before you connect to any Wi-Fi, make sure the connection is password protected and don’t enter personal or credit card information.
- Secure your smartphone and tablet devices. Only install apps or programs from known sources, keep an eye on your bill, investigate if your battery runs down quickly and don’t leave your phone unattended. Also, make sure you log off retailers’ websites so your information isn’t vulnerable to cyber thieves.
- Keep your anti-virus software up-to-date on your mobile devices and home computer. Make sure you have installed the latest firewall and anti-virus software to protect your mobile devices and computers against hacker attacks.
- Don’t send cash or wire money for payment. Do not wire money via Western Union, Money Gram, Green Dot card or any other wire service for online purchases; you may be handing over your money to scammers, and never get the item you “ordered.” Pay by credit card to protect your purchases.
- Compare prices, look out for phantom websites. Anyone can create a store online. Confirm the online seller’s physical address and phone number in case you have any problems or questions. If you buying an item from websites such as eBay or Etsy, be sure to use a trusted payment service such as PayPal or your credit card to protect your funds if you need to file a dispute with the seller.
- Avoid counterfeit products. Carefully examine the products you want to buy for signs of missing information (manufacturing information, warranty, product codes, etc.), broken or missing safety seals, different or incomplete packaging, and subtle or obvious changes to a company logo.
- For safe online shopping, make sure your apps are downloaded from a trusted source, such as the Android Market, Apple App Store or the Amazon App Store. When you download the app, it will ask for various “permissions.” Be sure to read through them and note whether they make sense… for example, does a shopping app need access to your contact list? Another way to check on the safety of apps is to read through the feedback in the comments section of the market and choose apps with a high rating.
- Enter financial information only on secure sites. Do not email financial information, like your credit card or checking account number. If you initiate a purchase online, look for indicators that the site is secure. Although no indicator is foolproof, look for a lock icon on the browsers status bar, or a URL address that includes an “s” after http.
- Keep a paper trail in a file folder. Print and save records of all your online transactions, including the product description, price, online receipt, and emails in case you need to return a gift after the holidays.
- Before you purchase, review the refund policy and delivery rates. Look to see if you can return a product for a full refund before you complete the transaction. Check out who pays for the cost of shipping a returned item and if the company charges a “restocking” fee back to the consumer.
- Consider coupons: Some companies offer discounts via email, and some websites collect and list codes for free shipping and other discounts. Search for the store with terms like “discount,” “coupon” or “free shipping.”
- Read retailer and product reviews. Reviews from other people, experts, and columnists can give you an idea of how a product performs. But don’t put all of your trust in one review. A brand’s reputation for quality and good customer service can really pay off.
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