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10 Ways to Avoid Online Scams

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With more shoppers than ever using mobile devices and computers for holiday shopping, many are inadvertently leaving themselves vulnerable to online fraud and scams. Here are 10 ways to avoid becoming a victim this holiday season.

1. Avoid suspicious websites

If a website suffers from poor design or multiple pop-up windows, it might not be a legitimate retailer. To stay safe, stick with big-name retailers or, on smaller sites, familiar payment systems, such as PayPal.

2. Don't click on hyperlinks in emails

A common scam involves sending emails that ask the recipient to click on a hyperlink or open an attachment and then enter personal information, such as bank account numbers. Ignore any emails that make these kinds of requests.

3. Use caution when shopping by phone

Mobile devices make shopping more convenient, but they often lack protections such as anti-virus software. Consider avoiding entering your payment information on a phone and use big retailers' apps, which often come with extra security.

4. Keep your Social Security number to yourself

Fraudulent emails and fake websites sometimes request Social Security numbers. Legitimate businesses almost never make such requests. Shoppers should not share this information online.

5. Stick with plastic

Credit cards usually come with extra fraud protection, which means consumers might be able to get their money back if they fall victim to fraud. Shoppers should contact their card company at the first sign of  a scam.

6. Use strong passwords

Retail sites often ask for passwords at checkout. Using the same password across multiple accounts, including financial accounts, can leave you at risk for password break-ins. For important accounts, use only secure passwords that are long and difficult to guess.

7. Request refunds

Shoppers have the right to cancel orders and get refunds if orders are late or shop up damaged or detective.. If the retailer resists the refund, shoppers can call on their credit card companies for help.

8. Don't friend strangers

Fraudsters sometimes prey on people over social media sites such as Facebook. To protect themselves, consumers should avoid accepting friend requests from strangers. It's easy to "unfriend" someone after accidentally accepting a request.

9. Avoid fake Holiday cards

They might look like they're spreading cheer, but holiday e-cards can pack a hidden punch. By directing recipients to click on embedded links, they can funnel them to scam sites. If you receive an e-card, be sure you know who sent it before opening it.

10. Schedule a regular paperwork review

Reviewing credit card and bank statements each month can help consumers catch any errors, as well as the first sign of potential fraud. If any charges seem incorrect, let your card company or bank know.

Technology Topic of the Month

Avoiding Shopping Scams


How it works: "Phishing" is when you get an e-mail from a supposedly trustworthy source, such as your bank or PayPal, claiming a problem with your account and asking for your user name and password. When you respond, your information is stolen and your account is siphoned, "Smishing" is the latest twist on that scam- instead of getting an e-mail, you get a text message. (The word is a combination of "SMS", for short message service, aka text messaging, and "phishing".) You're told to call a toll-free number, which is answered by a bogus interactive vice-response system that tries to fool you into providing your account number and password.

Prevent it: If you get a text alert about an account, don't respond before you verify that it's legitimate. You can do a Google search on the number to see whether it matches your financial institution. Even better, call the customer-service number at your bank or other service provider to give any needed information to a representative.

Teeny, tiny charges

How it works: Thieves get hold of your credit or debit card number and make very small charges of 20 cents to $10. The charges appear on your bill with an innocuous-sounding name, a and a toll-free number may appear next to the charge. But when you call the number, it's either disconnected or you're instructed to leave a message and your call is never returned.

Prevent it: Scrutinize every item on your bill every month, and question those you don't recognize. (Some charges, but not all will list a phone number). If you think a charge is fraudulent, notify your card company or financial institution, immediately.


How it works: Skimmers, devices that thieves attach to ATMs or gas pumps to steal your debit account number and password, have been around for years- and they're not going away. They're getting even more sophisticated. The devices are placed at the mouth of the card-acceptance slot and record the data off of the magnetic strip on the back of your ATM card when you slide it into the machine. Crooks will usually plant a second device, such as a hidden camera or a transparent plastic PIN pad overlay, that's used to record your PIN when you type it in. In the early days of skimming, the thief had to return to the ATM or gas pump to retrieve the apparatus. But now, wireless technology enables the devices to be rigged to send account information via text message to the thief's cell phone. The thief can be down the street in a coffee house or halfway around the world. As long as he's got a working phone signal, he can get the information sent to him right away and start using it.

Prevent it: Use credit cards and avoid using non-bank ATMs. those machines are generally located in areas that are less secure, making it easier for thieves to tamper with them. And check the card slot: If there's a plastic strip or plastic film sticking out, or anything glued to the card reader, go elsewhere. If your card is stuck inside the card slot, do not leave the machine. Call your bank branch or the 24 hour service number to report the problem.

Membership programs:

How they work: You're buying from a large, reputable website but just before you click the "confirm" button on your purchase, you see a pop-up window or banner ad with an offer such as " 10 Cash Back on Your Next Purchase!" Here's the catch. By accepting that so-called deal, you're agreeing to enroll in a Web discount program that's run by a completely separate company. Those programs, which have innocuous names such as "Reservation Rewards," Travel Values Plus," or "Great Fun," often provide a 30-day trial period during which you get discounts on a variety of merchandise and services. After that, a monthly membership fee, usually $10 to $20, will appear on your credit card bill- even though you never gave that outside company your card number.

Prevent it: Be wary of pop-up windows or banner ads that promise an additional discount before you complete the transaction. If you do click on an offer, take the time to read the fine print. Scrutinize your credit-card statement every month and question any unfamiliar charges, no matter how small. Check your e-mail inbox and spam folder because Web-loyalty programs often send a notification e-mail before they start charging your credit card, when you still have time to cancel.

Stripped Gift Cards

How it works: Thieves look for gift cards that are displayed on grab-and-go racks, such as in grocery and department stores. They use a handheld scanner to read the code behind the magnetic or scratch-off strip on the back of the card. That, combined with the card number on the front, gives them everything they need to steal the value of the card. Then they put the card back on the rack. Later an unsuspecting buyer purchases the worthless gift card. Even if the card isn't reloaded, a thief can steal the card number and security code, then call the 800 number shown on the card every few days to check the balance. Once a shopper has purchased the card and loaded it with a dollar amount, the thief can spend it before the purchaser does.

Prevent it: Buy cards that are behind a customer-service desk. Inspect the card; if the magnetic or peel-off strip on the back isn't pristine, the card might have been tampered with. When buying a preloaded card, ask the cashier to scan it to make sure the full value is on it. If you're buying it from a third-party gift-card site, look at the refund policy. And always hang on to the receipts. If something goes wrong, it can help you- or the gift recipient- get refunded.

Counterfeit Electronics

How it works: Counterfeiting might seem like old news, but it's still going strong- in fact, stronger than ever. Last year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection made 14,841 seizures of fake and pirated goods worth $261 billion, an all-time high. The counterfeits seized included the usual suspects- footwear, apparel, and accessories- plus a huge number of electronics.

Prevent it: look for a label stating that the product has been certified by CSA International or Underwriters Laboratory. Look at the product too. Are there misspellings on the package? If the box is see-through, does it contain all of the listed components, including batteries, cases, and power cords? Is the manufacturers contact information, including address and phone number, clearly displayed? When in doubt, buy from well-known retailers that offer a full refund.

Hang on to your handbag!

Get a grip

Thieves are just as likely to snatch your purse as to slip a hand inside it to grab a wallet. So keep your handbag tight against your body and in front of you at all times. And when you're sitting down in the food court at the mall, don't sling your purse behind you on the chair. Even if you think you're maintaining physical contact with your bag, leaning forward for just a second is all the opportunity a thief need to grab it.  And never put it on the floor, even if it's in front of you.

Nix Knapsack

They're back in style, but any bag that's not within your view is a juicy target for skilled pickpockets, no matter how securely it's fastened. And avoid purses with open compartments. Bags with zippers are best.

Keep your focus

A classic ploy of purse thieves is to create a diversion-pointing at something, talking loudly, holding open a map and asking for directions, or spilling something on your coat then offering to clean it up. It can happen in a restaurant or a busy mall. Whenever anyone approaches you, be sure to firmly hold your purse and keep it in front of you.

Pare down your wallet

Do you really need to bring all of your credit cards and ID cards with you? Leave everything except the necessities at home. And never routinely carry around anything with your Social Security number on it.

Be smart with your car

Park in well-lit areas. If it's still daylight but you plan to shop for a while, park under a street lamp or in a well-lit garage. Always put up your windows and lock the car. if you go back to your car to stow packages, put them in the trunk- visible boxes and bags are magnets for thieves. Don't load up with so many packages that your purse dangles from your arm, out of your sight. Take advantage of curbside pickup or ask the store to hold bags for you. If someone tries to grab your purse, don't resist. Also, if you have a GPS device in your car, program it so that your "home" setting isn't your home address. Instead, use the school or church down the street, or crooks will know how to get to your house while you're out.





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