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Shopping tips to avoid scams and fraud this holiday season

Avoid holiday shopping scams and fraud traps with

Avoid holiday shopping scams and fraud traps with these handy tips. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

You know that stomach-drop feeling when you look at your bank account and realize an unauthorized person has been using your debit or credit card?

If not, you’re lucky. If so, then you know all too well the dangers of scams and fraud, especially during the holiday shopping season.

“As New Yorkers begin making holiday purchases for family and friends, they should know that some deals are too good to be true,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman warned.

But there are ways to help avoid becoming a victim of fraud. Here are some key tips on how to spot and avoid fraud and scams this holiday shopping season.

Do your online shopping on a secure internet connection.

It’s tempting to splurge on that cute scarf that’s 75 percent off while you’re waiting in line for coffee, but identity thieves often stake out open, unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Checking the URL to make sure it says HTTPS in front is an easy way to protect yourself, according to Schneiderman.

Beware of ‘knockoff’ websites.

Similar to the concept of copying popular brand names, some scammers will use a variation of a known company’s URL in the hopes of getting unsuspecting victims to hand over their personal or financial information. This is common when clicking through to a website from an email or social media, Schneiderman said. Always double check the URL after clicking on a link, but it’s best if you just manually type the address into your browser.

Set strong passwords. 

The days of using your pet's name or your partner's birthday are long gone. Make sure passwords for your online accounts and Wi-Fi are complex and unique, per the NYPD.

Keep a record of your order, especially confirmation codes.

If there's an issue with a purchase, it's easiest to resolve or report to the authorities when you have documentation to prove it, according to the NYPD. Keep your receipts and email confirmations for online purchases. If you're unsure whether you'll get a confirmation of purchase emailed, get a screenshot of the final page of the website where the point of sale was conducted and save it to your computer. 

Too-good-to-be-true contests and promotions usually are.

That email with the subject, “You’ve just won a free iPad!” sounds kind of like the 21st century version of “You’ve just won a free cruise!” Not every contest or promotional email is a scam, but Schneiderman suggests it’s best to be wary. Emails, messages or social media posts offering free items – high-value gift cards, tablets or smartphones – often end up being scams aimed at obtaining personal and financial information. Any contest or promotion that requires an up-front payment or financial transaction should raise a red flag, Schneiderman said.

Watch out for restricted gift cards.

Setting a gift card expiration for shorter than five years and deducting fees for non-use with 25 months of the card’s purchase are actually illegal practices, Schneiderman advised. It’s best to use a gift card as soon as possible, but companies should still honor the card or withdraw the fees if you find that you’ve been a victim of these policies.

Read the fine print.

This advice is not just for big purchases like a car and can be applied to online deals as well. Consumers can be tricked into paying full price for items they thought were on sale due to vague wording in promotions and ads online. “Fine print stating that quantities are limited is a tell-tale sign of a bait-and-switch tactic,” Schneiderman said.

Be on the alert for misleading bargains and added fees.

Why pay more than you have to, right? Sale items can be marked up before they’re marked down, leading to an inflated price that actually ends up being more expensive than it would be later in the shopping season. High delivery charges and other fees may also negate the value of a sale price, Schneiderman said.

Check return and refund policies.

There’s a reason why many retailers print return policies at the bottom of your receipt. By law, refund policies must be posted by all merchants, according to Schneiderman. If not, then the customer is allowed 30 days to receive a refund in the same manner the purchase was made. “Be especially vigilant of 'final sales' or 'cash-only – final sale' notices, as you will have little or no recourse if the merchandise proves to be defective,” the attorney general added. Also keep an eye out for stores that require the original packaging or charge large restocking fees.

Now go forth and shop with confidence.

🛍 🛍 🛍

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