A Guide to Having a Safe Holiday Season for You and Your Family
The holidays are here and, for most of us, that means shopping. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are almost upon us. All that spending opens the doors for plenty of scams and rip-offs. I routinely receive holiday calls ranging from injuries caused by toys to refund issues to products not being delivered to being assaulted by a grumpy shopper or employee. Some of them turn into class actions or personal injury claims, but most don’t. Here are some tips to help you avoid calling a lawyer this holiday season.
Knock-off products are everywhere. Sometimes not paying for a brand name is worthwhile. Sometimes it can cause serious harm. For example, fake cosmetics may cause burns, rashes, and other health concerns. Similarly, knock-off electronics can cause fires and other safety hazards. Last year, I talked to several parents who were shocked to find their kid’s newest toy on fire from imitation lithium batteries.
- Beware of phony Black Friday coupons. If the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- If you are asked to pay for a purchase using a gift card or a wire transfer, this is almost always a scam. Legitimate sellers accept credit cards.
- For apparel and shoes, check the logo carefully. Look up the authentic logo and compare. Most designer goods have the logo engraved on zipper pulls, nameplates, and other places.
- Check the price. If it’s less than 30% below the market price and advertised as new, it’s probably a knock off.
- Check the shipping location. Shipping directly from China or Russia should raise your suspicions.
- Check the quality – do the seams line up correctly? Are there loose threads or cheap zippers?
- Check the documentation – designer goods come in boxes with logos and have identification and warranty cards. Designer handbags ship in dust covers, not in plastic bags.
- Search for complaints using the seller’s or company’s name on the Better Business Bureau and your Attorney General’s Office websites.
Identity Theft and Online Shopping
Stealing someone else’s personal information has never been easier. The odds are high that your personal information has leaked in the last two years. Equifax alone accounted for the exposure of financial information for 147 million Americans. Now is the best time for identity thieves to use your information without being caught. Here are some tips to protect your identity when shopping online:
- Always use credit cards rather than debit cards when shopping online. Credit cards have additional protections, monitoring tools, and similar benefits. Some cards even extend product warranties.
- Don’t click on pop-up ads and never give them your credit card information. Better yet, install a pop-up blocker to avoid them altogether.
- Always look for “https” and a padlock emblem in the website’s URL address – this typically indicates a secure site. If these are not present, move on.
- Regularly run anti-virus software on your personal computer.
- Stay away from public Wi-Fi networks that lack password protection. Never enter sensitive information such as your credit card numbers and bank account information when using these networks. Waiting until you are at home with a secure connection is the smartest choice to avoid identity theft and fraudulent schemes. If you routinely use unsecured wireless networks, consider purchasing a VPN subscription.
- Regularly review your credit card and bank account statements for unusual activity. Immediately report suspicious activity.
- Make sure your apps and operating systems on your cell phone stay current and updated.
- If your credit card company or bank calls and requests that you verify your account information for security reasons, ask to call back. Only dial the number that is printed on your credit or debit card when returning the call.
- Make sure you use very strong passwords with at least ten characters, both upper- and lower-case letters, special characters and numbers. Utilize different passwords for different sites. Better yet, install a password keeper that generates and saved passwords for you. LastPass and BitWarden are very popular password tools.
- Never create an online account with a seller you do not trust. Look for a physical address and phone number. If these are missing, take your money somewhere else.
- If your personal information is breached, closely monitor your accounts for suspicious activity. When this happens, you should place a free fraud alert with one of the three main credit reporting companies (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax). Whichever company you alert must notify the other companies.
- If your debit card is compromised, the quickest method for protection is to cancel the card immediately and request a replacement card.
Additional Safe Shopping Tips
- If a retailer uses a bait-and-switch advertisement, pay attention and document it. Bait and switch tactics include advertising one product but delivering another, changing the deal terms when you come to pick up an item, or misrepresenting the quality or quantity of items available. These tactics violate state and federal laws.
- Before you make a purchase, make sure you understand the retailer’s refund policy.
- Always read the fine print in holiday shopping advertisements and coupons. Exclusions and limitations should be clearly noted. If the product sells out, you should receive a rain check unless the retailer has disclosed the number of limited quantities or stated a “no rain-check policy.”
- Read the fine print on gift cards. Some decrease in value over time. Some lose their value completely if not used by the end of the calendar year. The best bet is to use gift cards quickly.
- Never purchase gift cards that are not behind a counter or that is not activated upon purchase. Ask the cashier to scan the card to show you its value when making a gift card purchase. There is a huge black market dealing in counterfeit gift cards.
- Be alert for emails allegedly from companies that contain attachments. This is an increasingly common scam to infect your computer with malware. If you do not recognize the sender, do not open the attachment.
- Consider requiring signatures for home delivery of packages as theft of packages is very common during the holiday season. Or have the package dropped off at a neighbor’s house.
- Have a safe word for your children to use in emergencies. One popular scam is for people to contact you claiming that your child is injured and needs money immediately. These scam artists scan social media for personal information to use in calling you to trick you into disclosing financial account information.
If you have been the victim of fraudulent activity, contact the attorneys at The Wetherington Law Firm to discuss your legal options.