Updated Dec. 6, 2017
Holiday shopping season is underway and we want you to shop smarter and safer! Before you head to checkout online or in store, follow our guide to save money and avoid potential scams.
Shop safe online
Shopping online is not only convenient for you, but for scammers. You can protect yourself by staying vigilant of deceptive traps.
Your email inbox is probably filled to the brim with promotional emails, sales notifications and coupons. Be on the lookout for phishing emails that mimic legitimate retailers and businesses, but are actually designed to steal your personal information. There may be misspelled words, they refer to you as ‘dear customer’ instead of by your name, or reference a transaction that you had nothing to do with. Never click on a link or open an attachment from suspicious emails or send over any payment.
If you’re shopping online from a desktop computer or laptop, make sure the website is safe and encrypted. A secure website will start with https:// and you will see a lock in the upper left of the address bar. Make sure the anti-virus software subscription is current.
If you’re shopping on the go, use a store’s official app which is more secure than accessing a site using a web browser like Internet Explorer or Safari.
Pay with a debit or credit card
Refrain from using cash as it’s harder to track what you spend and there’s no way to replace it if you lose it. If you don’t have a checking account, consider opening one to start building a stronger financial future.
If you do have a bank account, monitor your purchases and look for suspicious activity through your bank’s app. If you think your card’s security has been compromised, report it immediately and change your PIN if needed.
Make sure gift cards are good to go
At many stores, gift cards are stocked in bulk. Scammers will write down the numbers and PIN seals of several cards, waiting to luck up on one that’s activated by a customer so they can steal the money. Before you purchase a gift card, make sure it hasn’t been tampered with and don’t share the number with anyone. Encourage the recipient to keep track of their purchases by visiting the secure gift card’s website or calling the customer service number.
Understand terms of contracts, layaways, and credit cards before you commit
Salespeople know many people want to improve themselves in the New Year and will try to get you to sign up for everything from appliance purchases, gym and spa memberships, skincare and weight management subscriptions, and more.
Read and ask questions about any contract you’re about to sign. Some membership contracts have a minimum time requirement and you may face extra fees if you end the contract early.
Some stores offer layaway as a way for customers to pay for items over time in installments. Make sure you understand the layaway terms and payment due dates before you commit.
If you’re thinking of opening a store credit card, make sure you understand the terms and check the interest rate. Refrain from maxing out and maintain good credit habits.
Don’t dig yourself into debt
Before you go out, make a list of the gifts you need to buy. Set a budget and stick with it the best you can. Once you’re done with your shopping list, review your purchases to see if you overspent. If you accumulate some debt, prioritize how you’ll pay it off.
Follow @LACountyCFE on Twitter for more financial literacy tips!
If you think you’ve been the victim of a scam, give us a call at 1-800-593-8222 or file a complaint online.