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Saturday, March 2, 2024
March 2, 2024

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Shopping online? How to avoid fraud, seasonal scams


Social media teems with videos of boxes being swiped off porches. The internet means fraudsters don’t have to show you their face to fool you. And the big business of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa means it’s also a busy time of year for criminals.

Here are some online shopping tips for getting through the season without being victimized:

Safe shopping

  • Don’t use public Wi-Fi: Use private networks to keep information you enter into the website from being lifted.
  • Check companies and websites: Amazon used to sell just books. Walmart wasn’t born an ubiquitous chain of megastores. Everybody was small at some point. Don’t avoid lower-profile, less-established companies just because they’re not giant retail institutions.

But do your homework.

Check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints. Search court records where the business is based for any lawsuits. Remember, a company’s social media posts really are just advertisements for the business. Yelp, Google and Amazon reviews can be manipulated.

Also, check for product recalls from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

“When ordering online, ensure that the web browser has a secure connection before inputting or submitting payment information,” the 2023 Holiday Consumer Protection Guide from the Office of Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody says. “In the address bar, a padlock should appear to signify that your session is secure.”

  • Don’t fall for time pressure: “BUY BEFORE 10 PM WEDNESDAY AND GET 50 percent OFF!” Before you rearrange the schedule and your money so you can take advantage of this bargain, step away from the keyboard. Put the phone down.

If you know you want that item, know it’s a good bargain and are economically ready to press the Order button, hit it. But haste makes waste of your hard-earned cash. Their deadline doesn’t change whether or not you’re ready to buy.

Also, Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals often get resurrected during what’s become Discount December. Bet that the 50 percent discount will be offered again, probably advertised with another faux deadline designed to scare you into making a panic buy.

  • If it sounds too good to be true … : … it usually is. Great bargains are out there, as retailers either try to unload less-popular stock or just suck you in with loss leaders (sales on which they lose money but hope get you in the door for more profitable purchases).

Read the fine print. Are you being signed up for more purchases to be billed on auto pay? Is the company asking for personal identification information? No retailer really needs your Social Security number or driver’s license.

  • Pay with cards: Both credit cards and debit cards tend to have fraud protection and give you powers to dispute a charge. In the case of a successful dispute, the amount gets credited to your credit card account faster than the cash goes back into the bank account linked to your debit card.
  • Gift cards: Popular when you don’t know what to buy someone, but know they like this store or that restaurant. Or just satisfies quick presents to teachers, office staff or building staff.

“Consider the retailer’s financial situation before buying a gift card,” the Florida Attorney General’s office says. “If the retailer closes or declares bankruptcy, the recipient may not be able enjoy the card’s value.”

Oh, and here’s another tip — no government agency or creditor will accept payment via a gift card. So if you get a phone call saying it’s the IRS, Social Security or some collection agency and they say you need to make a payment now and they’ll accept a gift card, they’re fraudsters. Hang up.

Foiling porch pirates

Whether you’re shopping brick-and-mortar or online, you have to remember the back end of shopping — how do you get what you bought not to your home, but actually inside your home?

This might mean figuring out the Cal Tech level geometry that’ll get that play-kitchen into your Mustang. Or it might mean figuring out how to keep your online package from being stolen after it is delivered to your home.

Some apartment buildings have doormen, concierges or package rooms for secure package delivery. Some don’t. Those buildings and free-standing homes are especially vulnerable to theft of ordered goods delivered by Amazon, FedEx, UPS or U.S. Postal Service.

  • Get the tracking. Check the tracking: Before you click the “buy” button, make sure you’ve got the right address. Then get the tracking number and check it periodically. If the package starts running late or doesn’t arrive on time, reach out to the seller.
  • Make specific delivery requests: You know when you can be at home. Request a delivery date and time range that hits during your home time. Also, always request the delivery person get a signature from the person who accepts the package.
  • Don’t have packages delivered to your home: An argument for spending more time in the office is it might be the best place to have your presents sent, if there’s a person there to accept deliveries.

Another reason to stay on good terms with your neighbors is they might agree to accept your packages if they’re going to be at home. Put down their address as the delivery spot. Or, if you have a friend or relative you know will be home, make an arrangement with them and use their address.

You can also have the item shipped to a store for your pickup. Amazon offers Lockers and Hub Lockers, often included with the delivery charge.