ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Not to worry you or anything during what’s supposed to be the happy holiday season, but be aware that this time of year is also a happy one for scammers.
“The holiday shopping season is one of the most dangerous times for consumers to fall victim to scams,” New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said. “Many people ramp up their spending this time of year, and making sure that gifts arrive on time can put pressure on shoppers to leap into expenses before looking into whether businesses and their products are legitimate.”
So if you’re gearing up for the annual shopping extravaganza, whether it be an online or bricks-and-mortar approach, here are some tips to keep the scammers from celebrating – at your expense.
• The first order of business is to make sure your identity is secure so it’s not stolen. Shop only on protected websites that have an HTTPS designation at the front of the address. (The “s” stands for secure and means the transaction is encrypted as protection against hackers.)
• With data breaches much in the news, consider simplifying things during the holiday season by designating one low-limit credit card for all online purchases. It would be easier to monitor new transactions on just one account as you watch for any unusual activity.
• Be wary of unsolicited email blasts offering deals. Never click on links in these kind of emails, or on popups, regardless of how enticing a particular deal sounds. “Internet `trolls’ and `bots’ who lift your personal financial information from pop-up ads can be common on online shopping sites,” the AG’s Office says.
• Fake retail websites, easily created by scammers to mimic the real thing, should be of special concern this time of year. One way to tell if a site is legitimate is to check the address bar of your browser. Often, imposters will tinker with a character or two to slightly change a legitimate adress. Grammar and spelling mistakes are another dead giveaway.
• Research a particular website at ResellerRatings.com. This database of merchants and vendors lists business details and consumer reviews, showing whether a merchant delivers on time, what customer service is like and other information. If the website you’re checking out isn’t listed, that could mean it’s not legitimate. Or it could mean it hasn’t been in existence long, in which case, keep reading.
• How to check whether a website was thrown up just yesterday to snare seasonal shoppers: In the address bar, type “site:” in front of the name you’re checking. For the Macy’s website, for example, you would type “site:macys.com.” This will bring up all of the pages (usually hundreds or thousands) that Google has indexed, according to the A Secure Life website. Next, click on the “tools” or “search tools” button at the top. This will bring up an “Any Time” button just below. When you click on that, go to the “custom range” option in the scrolldown menu. You can search a range of dates, continuing to go back in time, to determine how long the site has been in existence. Again, if it was created recently, this is a giant clue that its main purpose is to hit on shoppers during the holiday season.
• Make sure your computer is always up to date with the newest upgrades of your anti-virus software provider, according to Scam Detector.
Bricks and mortar shopping
• Take note of who might be watching when you’re using your credit card or PIN number at the register. If someone is crowding your personal space, they might be trying to steal your passwords. Cover your phone screen when you’re entering passwords.
Last but not least – and not just when it comes to shopping:
• An oldie but goodie when it comes to protection from all kinds of scams: If a deal is too good to be true, run in the opposite direction.
Ellen Marks is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact her at email@example.com or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210.