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Stay Safe, Holiday Shoppers

December 6, 2016

It’s the holiday shopping season! We’ve already passed Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but if you’re still looking for the best deals, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind.

Online Shopping

Buying gifts online can save the time, money and hassle of driving store to store in search of the perfect item. Of course, online shopping comes with certain risks. As long as you follow a few safety precautions, you shouldn’t come across many difficulties.

Set Strong Passwords

Any time you make an online account that requires a password — especially when the account relates to making purchases — you need to make sure your password can’t be guessed or found. Make your passwords long, include special characters and make them unique for each account. At the same time, you’ll want them to be memorable so you don’t have to write them down. Get password-creating tips from the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit.

Shop on Secure, Reputable Websites

Check the web address before submitting personal information online. Secure URLs start with https rather than http. The added “s” means that your information will get to the intended recipient without risk of anyone else seeing it.

Double check all web addresses before entering personal information. Fraudulent websites will often look real because they mimic a well-known business’s website. With the difference of a single character, you could be on a different site than you think you are. One way to make sure you’re in the right place is by searching for the business by name and selecting a top option in your search results.

Undelivered Orders

If you’ve ordered an item but haven’t received it by the date you were promised, you may be eligible for a refund. Make sure you save the seller’s written promised shipment date along with other company and order information. If the seller doesn’t promise you a shipment date, you should expect your order to be shipped within 30 days.

See more details on undelivered orders and how you can get your money back with the Consumer Protection Unit.

Gift Cards

So you’re not quite sure what to get your little cousin for Christmas. Why not let her pick out her own gift, right? Cash seems too impersonal, so you decide on a gift card.

Sadly, billions of dollars go unused on gift cards every year!

While certain laws regulate gift card expiration dates, consumers are still responsible for paying attention to expiration dates and business policies. Before buying a gift card this year, ask the seller or check the business website for answers to these questions:

  • What is your redemption policy?
  • What is your merchandise return policy?
  • Where are your store locations?
  • Can it be redeemed online?
  • Can it be redeemed in stores?
  • Can this card be reloaded?
  • What happens if the card is stolen?

Also pay attention to business closing notices. If a business closes, any money left on their gift cards will be lost.

Gift Card Scams

Criminals can target gift cards by recording the code and returning it to the store rack. If you’re not careful, you might end up buying a gift card that’s already been targeted. It’s best to go through a few safety checks when buying a gift card:

  • Only buy gift cards directly from reputable sellers.
    Avoid online auction sites that sell gift cards at a lower price. These cards might have been stolen, counterfeit or not have the full amount loaded.
     
  • Examine both sides of a gift card before buying it.
    If you can read the PIN number, criminals can too. Don’t buy a card that looks like it’s been tampered with.

     
  • Ask the cashier to check the card’s value.
    Make sure that you get what you pay for.

     
  • Keep the receipt.
    Either give the receipt to the card recipient or store it in a memorable location. If the card is lost or stolen, it might be replaceable with a receipt.

Beware of Holiday Scams

With so many people rushing to buy gift after gift, scammers can take advantage of this time of year.

Social Media

While scrolling through our friends’ puppy photos, we all tend to lower our defenses. But cybercriminals can use social media to get to you. Always be wary of shortened links — like what you might see on Twitter — since it’s typically impossible to know where they’ll take you. You should even be careful with posts or messages that seem to come from your friends, especially when there’s a link to “special deals” or app downloads. Their account might’ve been hacked.

Fake Charities

Charities often run special campaigns during these winter months, and the holidays might put you in a particularly giving mood. Unfortunately, criminals can take advantage of this fact. Be careful whenever you donate money.

Don’t give your credit card, debit card or bank information to a telephone solicitor. Research the charities you’re considering before you write a check. Examine their website and see if they are registered with the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office. And if you hope to get a tax deduction for your contribution, make sure that the organization has a tax-deductible status with the IRS.

 

With vacation plans and family potlucks to think about, you can’t afford to deal with scams and lost money. Go into this holiday season with all the facts to stay safe and protected so you can enjoy your time.

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About the Author

Rachel Hart is the User Interface designer for GeorgiaGov. She visually organizes information, and writes blogs on a variety of government-related topics.

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