Attorney General Chris Carr’s Consumer Protection Division is sharing important tips to help Georgians protect their personal and financial information while shopping this holiday season.
“With so many Georgians buying gifts, making donations, and sending and receiving packages during the holidays, criminals are hoping to exploit this opportunity to steal your hard-earned money or personal information,” said Carr. “By familiarizing yourself with some of the common scams, you can better protect your wallet and your identify, especially when shopping online.”
Tips for Safe Shopping During the Holidays
- Only make purchases through reputable companies. With more people shopping online, it’s important to check out a company’s reputation with the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org. You can also read consumer reviews by searching online for the company name, along with the word “complaint,” “review” or “scam.” Think twice before buying a product from an ad on social media. Instead, see if you can find the same product from a legitimate retailer or website.
- Beware of phony retail websites. Watch out for fake websites that look very similar to that of an actual online merchant. Scammers may try to lure you to such sites using ads, texts or unsolicited emails that promise a “free gift” or a great bargain. Check the website name very closely. Spelling or grammatical errors may tip you off to a bogus site. Avoid navigating to a website through a link in a text, ad or unsolicited email.
- If possible, use credit cards when making purchases. Credit cards offer greater protections against fraud than cash, debit cards, payment apps or cryptocurrency.
- Beware of package delivery scams. Scammers send texts and emails that purport 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. These imposters are trying to steal your money or sensitive data by prompting you to provide personal or payment information. Do not interact with the message. Instead, contact the actual shipping company or the online merchant from which you ordered merchandise to see if there really is a delivery problem. Remember – if you do actually miss a shipment, the delivery company generally leaves a written notice on your door or in your mailbox.
- Watch out for fake order confirmations. Scammers may impersonate well-known retailers, such as Amazon, Walmart, Target or Costco, by sending a text message or email confirming a recent purchase you supposedly made totaling several thousand dollars. The message contains a link or phone number to call to cancel the order and receive a refund. But, if you follow the instructions, you will end up giving your money or account credentials to a scammer. You can safely verify the status of your account at any time by going to the verified website address of the retailer in question, where you can then view your orders, track shipments and securely contact customer service.
- Guard against thieves who may steal packages off your doorstep. Track packages so you know when they arrive. Consider having packages shipped to your work address instead of your home or asking a neighbor to pick up packages for you if you’re away.
- Beware of malicious links. Be wary about clicking on links to advertisements for holiday deals, e-greeting cards, notifications about package delivery problems, or warnings about compromised accounts. These may be from scammers who are hoping you will divulge personal or financial information or who are trying to get you to download malware onto your computer. If you need to verify a purchase or account status with a retailer, you should contact the company through a verified website or phone number.
- Avoid bogus charities. Many charities solicit for donations around the holidays, but scammers like to get in on the action too. Avoid clicking on links in unsolicited texts or emails or on ads that pop-up in your social media accounts. Being asked to donate to a charity via wire transfer, gift cards or cryptocurrency is a red flag of a scam. Your safest bet is to initiate contact with the charity of your choice through a verified website or phone number. You can research a charity by visiting give.org or charitynavigator.org. To report a charity scam, contact the Georgia Secretary of State’s Charities Division.
- Pay close attention to return policies. A business may set its own return policy and may offer consumers cash, in-store credit, exchanges, or no adjustment at all. Many stores also set time limits on when they accept returns. While not required to post their policies, businesses must honor any posted refund or return policy.
- Check your bank and credit card accounts frequently. With the extra shopping you may be doing, an unauthorized charge might be harder to catch. Review your bank and credit card accounts often, and if you come across a charge you don’t recognize, contact your financial provider immediately so that you can report the fraudulent charge, cancel the compromised card, and request a replacement card. You should also contact one of the three credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) to have a fraud alert placed on your account.
It may be difficult to get your money back once it’s in the hands of a scammer, but here are some steps you can take to boost your chances of recovering your funds:
- Immediately Report the Fraud: As soon as you become aware of the fraud, immediately contact the appropriate financial provider, money transfer company, or gift card provider so you have the best chance of recovering your money and minimizing any damage done to your finances or credit record.
- Contact Law Enforcement: File a report with your local law enforcement agency, the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at (404) 651-8600 or consumer.ga.gov, and the Federal Trade Commission at reportfraud.ftc.gov.
- If Scam Transactions are Hurting your Credit: Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to request your free credit reports from the three major credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. If you notice any unauthorized collection items, loans or credit cards, contact the three major credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) to dispute them. Freezing your credit is also a great way to stop unauthorized accounts from being opened. To learn more about how this process works, visit https://consumer.georgia.gov/consumer-topics/credit-freeze.
For additional tips, visit the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division website here.