'Tis the season to be wary of scam artists

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The holiday season brings time with the family, large amounts of food, gifts galore — and scams.

“Holidays, like disasters, are a common time for scams to increase,” said Ed Mierzwinski, director of the consumer program at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

According to an October National Retail Federation survey, one-quarter of consumers plan on completing 26 percent to 50 percent of their holiday shopping online this year.

If someone is a victim of identity theft using a credit card, they still will have to undergo an investigation to validate the fraud, but they won’t lose the money in their account.

“You have more rights by law with a credit card than a debit card,” Mierzwinski said.

Other important tips:

• Make sure your shopping sites are legit: National Consumers League executive director Sally Greenberg said consumers should check the legitimacy of online shopping websites, especially when buying from unknown stores, and read the return policies.

• Be wary of cut-rate pricing: Online advertisements for merchandise priced well below the product’s typical cost are a trick used by scammers looking to get personal identification from consumers or to install malware — software that performs unwanted tasks and gathers private information — on their computers.

• Watch out for charity scams: Phone calls and websites can solicit information from donors by posing as charities, and then steal from those who fall for the trap.

• Be careful with gift cards: Gift cards’ popularity stands at an all-time high, according to a National Retail Federation survey, which found 81 percent of consumers plan on purchasing them this holiday season. The amount expended on such cards has increased by more than 4 percent since last year; buyers spent an average of $157 last year and are expected to spend an average of $163 this year.

Greenberg’s advice: “Use common sense, do your homework and look at the fine print before you spend your hard-earned money.”


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