Consumer safety tips for online holiday shopping; make a list, check sellers twice

Scamming via the Internet, one of the many ways scammers find and hook unsuspecting victims | Image compiled Brett Barrett, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY – Francine A. Giani, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Commerce, announced Thursday that the Division of Consumer Protection is releasing its annual list of shopping tips ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday to keep consumers safe when buying this year’s hottest gifts.

According to the National Retail Federation, 2012 holiday sales are expected to hit around $586.1 billion, a 4.1 percent increase over last year’s total. With many retailers opening doors on Thanksgiving Day and offering earlier-than-usual Black Friday specials, consumers are pressured to look at their lists before Nov. 23.

Cyber Monday continues to grow in popularity; the National Retail Federation estimates over 52 percent of consumers will purchase a holiday gift online this year. Shop.org is projecting a 12 percent increase in online holiday shopping, with $96 billion in cyber sales in November and December.

“Before your Thanksgiving dinner hits the oven, consumers will be flooded with offers as retailers send out emails to your smartphone and computer,” Giani said. “Make sure your holiday game plan includes protecting your credit information, using reputable merchants and checking the terms of sales twice before completing a purchase, whether it’s in-store or online.”

“Internet fraud is our top consumer complaint,” said Traci Gunderson, Director of the Division of Consumer Protection. “Don’t forget to read the fine print, such as the return policy and product warranty, before you cross that gift off your list.”

Tips for shopping smart and safe online:

•  Don’t wire money to pay for gifts and never send cash. You may be giving your money to scammers and never get the item you ordered. Pay by credit or charge card only.

•  Scammers will try to entice victims to their websites with ridiculously low prices. Similar items typically fall into a general price range; if an item’s purchase price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Also, remember to account for shipping and handling in the cost of online purchases.

•  Research the seller. Anyone can create a “store” online. Confirm the seller’s physical address and phone number in case you have any problems or questions.

•  Keep your computer’s security up-to-date. Make sure you have installed the latest firewall and anti-virus software to protect against online attacks.

•  Never email financial information, like your credit card or bank account number. If you initiate a purchase online, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on your browser’s status bar or a URL address that includes an “s” after “http.”

•  Keep a paper trail by printing and saving records of all your online transactions, including the product description, price, receipt and confirmation e-mails.

•  Review the refund policy and delivery rates. Look to see if you can return a product for a full refund if you are not satisfied, and who pays for the cost of shipping a returned item.

•  Consider coupons. Some companies offer discounts via e-mail and some websites collect and list codes for free shipping and other discounts. Search for the store with terms like “discount,” “coupon,” or “free shipping.”

•  Reading reviews from other people, experts and columnists can give you an idea of how a product performs. But don’t put all of your trust in one review; a brand’s reputation for quality and good customer service can really pay off.

•  Use your smartphone and other mobile devices wisely. They offer convenient consumer resources, but may also provide scammers with your personal and financial information. Be sure that what you are downloading or installing comes from a legitimate source, keep an eye on your bill, investigate if your device’s battery runs down quickly and try not to leave your device unattended.

For more information on how to protect yourself from scams or to file a complaint, log on to the Division of Consumer Protection website.

Submitted by: Utah Department of Commerce

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

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1 Comment

  • Edwin November 19, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Thanks for the article. We all need to be more proactive about our personal account security. One thing you failed to mention is taking advantage of the 2FA (2-Factor Authentication). Although it’s been around for a while, more and more sites are starting to offer and promote this option. 2-Factor Authentication to complete a transaction while shopping online wins every day. I feel suspicious when I am not asked to telesign into my account by way of 2FA, it just feels as if they are not offering me enough protection. I know some will claim this make things more complicated, but the slight inconvenience each time you log in is worth the confidence of knowing your info is secure. This should be a prerequisite to any system that wants to promote itself as being secure.

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