HARRISBURG — Attorney General Tom Corbett released a list of tips for the holiday season, to help consumers avoid common problems and fraud.
“The joy of the holiday season can quickly be spoiled by crimes like identity theft or disputes involving gift purchases,” Corbett said. “Consumers should carefully consider all their purchases and charitable gifts, and not allow the excitement of the season to rush them into hasty decisions that can be regretful and costly.”
Corbett said the following tips are intended to help consumers avoid the most common scams and problems during the holiday season:
– Review a store’s exchange or return policy before making a purchase. Retailers are permitted to make their own store policy regarding returns.
– Check for expiration dates and “maintenance fees” on gift cards and gift certificates.
– Check receipts before leaving the store for possible errors.
– Keep all records and receipts in case repairs or returns are necessary in the future.
– Be careful making purchases at unfamiliar kiosks and stands – seasonal businesses may not be around to assist with returns or repairs.
– Do not carry numerous credit cards or your Social Security card in your wallet or purse while shopping – these items can be used by identity thieves if they are lost or stolen.
– Do your homework – Research the seller before you make a purchase to determine if an online business has a history of consumer problems.
– Understand shipping costs and delivery times. Make sure you know how much you’re paying for shipping and are confident that your purchases will arrive on time.
– Review the refund and return policy and find out who is responsible for the shipping costs on returns.
– Print out all confirmation messages, receipts and email communications between you and the seller.
– Use anti-virus and firewall protection on your computer, and make sure the software is up-to-date. Firewalls help prevent hackers from accessing your system and stealing your personal and financial information.
– Watch out for “look alike” websites used by scam artists to collect credit card info and personal data from unwitting consumers.
– Keep your personal information, such as social security numbers, credit cards and bank account information, in a safe location.
– Shred all unwanted credit card applications and other documents that contain sensitive information about your identity.
– Do not give out personal information over the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you know who you are dealing with. Identity thieves may pose as representatives of banks, Internet service providers and even government agencies to get you to reveal information.
– Carefully review credit card and bank statements for unauthorized charges or purchases you did not make, and report any problems immediately.
– Check your credit history – Every consumer is entitled to one free credit report each year from the three major credit bureaus. Check your report several times per year to spot potential problems.
– Donate to charities that you are familiar with and whose activity you support.
– Feel free to ask for additional information, in writing, about charitable programs.
– Find out how much of your donation will be used for charitable activities, as opposed to administrative and fund-raising expenses –information on charities is available on the PA Dept. of State website (http://www.dos.state.pa.us/char/site/default.asp)
– Watch out for organizations using names that closely resemble respected charities.
– Never feel pressured into making a donation.
– Ask door-to-door solicitors to show you their identification or credentials.
– Write checks to the charity, not to the company or person collecting the money.