'Tis the season for shopping scams: How to protect yourself

Avoiding shopping scams

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - We're all looking for great deals around the holidays but shoppers beware -- it's prime time for scams to pop up.

Financial Professional Mike Kojonen is here with some advice for protecting yourself and your bank account.

Q: How are scammers targeting people over the holidays?
Many people are feeling more generous and do more shopping this time of year. Some of us are in a better, more trusting mood and let our guards down. Sadly, scammers see all of those things as opportunities. I have three scams that people should be watching out for:

1. Gift card scam
 -- Gift cards have become the most requested holiday gift, but there are several scams to be aware of. 
-- If you see an online ad or an email offering a free gift card, it could be designed to collect your personal information so someone can steal your ID. Never give personal information in exchange for a gift card.
-- Thieves will also try sending emails saying you’ve won a free gift card but need to send money to cover shipping and handling. Don’t purchase gift cards through emails.
-- There are also several ways a thief can tamper with gift cards on a store rack, like copying card numbers and pins or replacing new cards with already used cards. It’s better to get a gift card that has not been on display, directly from a cashier.

2. Fake charities
This is one of the most popular holiday scams. I warn my clients to be wary of email and phone requests. Ask for written information about a charity before you donate.
-- Never donate by using cash or wire transfer because once you donate, your money is gone. A check made out to the charity or a credit card are the safest options. 
-- Sometimes thieves will use the name of a real charity and sometimes they will create their own. Look out for names that are similar to well-known charities but are a little bit different.
-- Verify that the charity is real before donating and check how much of your money will actually be going to the cause. I have links to help with this research on my website: preserveyourdollars.com.

3. Delivery scam
-- This is a new one that popped up over the holidays last year. 
-- A delivery person will bring an unexpected package to your door. There is usually no card and the delivery person will claim they don’t know who the gift is from.
-- This person will say there is a small verification fee and you must slide a credit or debit card through their handheld scanner.
• The truth is, that scanner is a device used to collect your card and security information so a thief can later use your card information to make fraudulent purchases.
• Never give credit or debit card information to someone at your door.

Q: What can people do to avoid becoming a scam victim?
I have 3 tips:

1. Review your statements
-- I tell my clients to be extra cautious and to review their bank and credit account statements at least weekly, if not daily this time of year.
-- If you notice a problem, report it to your bank or credit card company right away.
-- Sign up for credit monitoring. It will alert you when someone opens or attempts to open a new line of credit in your name.

2. Protect your information
-- Identity theft increases over the holidays 
-- Whether you’re buying gifts or applying for a seasonal job, think about your surroundings when giving out personal information.
-- Store clerks are now asking for email addresses, zip codes and phone numbers when you make a purchase. You can and should decline, especially if there are a lot of people around who may be listening.
-- Don’t use public wi-fi to check your banking information or to make purchases using a credit card. Be sure to use a secure connection.

3. Do your homework
-- This holiday season online sales are expected to reach $117 billion and scammers are trying to take advantage. 
-- If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Fake travel, ticket broker and shopping sites may be set up just to try to get you to enter your personal or banking information.
-- Only make purchases from online sites you know and trust.
-- Look up reviews of companies to determine their trustworthiness before entering any information. I have a link to check companies with the Better Business Bureau on my website.


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