Q. While holiday shopping online last year, I got a "great deal" for a present for my wife. I should have known better because the present never showed, and instead I got my identity stolen. Does the BBB have tips to make sure others do not fall prey to scammers this season?
A. Looking forward to the holidays? So are the scammers. As many begin to make their holiday gift list and charity donations, unscrupulous scammers are gearing up to deck the halls with their tried and true holiday scams.
Better Business Bureau is warning holiday shoppers and donors to know the red flags and to be on their guard for this season's holiday scams.
Every year, thousands of shoppers fall victim to the holiday deals that seem too good to be true, and the bogus charity pleas that pull at the heart strings. This holiday season, BBB urges consumers to take the following tips into consideration before doing their holiday shopping and making charity donations:
• Always research charities with BBB before you give to see if the charity meets BBB's 20 Standards for Charity Accountability at www.chattanooga.bbb.org/Standards-Charity/.
The holidays are a time of giving, and that creates an opportunity for scammers to solicit donations to line their own pockets. Beware of solicitations from charities that do not necessarily deliver on their promises or are ill-equipped to carry through on their plans. Resist demands for on-the-spot donations. Up-to-date reports on local and national charities are available at www.give.org.
• Always check a business's BBB Business Review, at www.bbb.org, before making a purchase in the store or online.
Make sure that the company has a physical address and telephone number. When shopping online, some websites offer electronics or luxury goods at prices that are too good to be true. Every holiday season, BBB hears from holiday shoppers who paid for a "great deal" online, but received little or nothing in return.
• If you shop Craigslist or other free bulletin board sites, look for local sellers and conduct transactions in person. Bring a friend if you are uncomfortable meeting the seller alone. Never wire money as payment.
If you are shopping on auctions like eBay, look at seller ratings and read their reviews. Do not buy if the deal sounds too good to be true.
• Do not let yourself get bogged down in purchases or lose track of your wallet. While you are struggling with bags of presents, identity thieves may see an opportunity to steal your wallet or look over your shoulder to copy your debit or credit card numbers.
Know where your credit and debit cards are at all times and cover the keypad when entering your PIN while purchasing items or getting money from an ATM. Make sure you put your card back in your wallet after each purchase.
• Do not click on any links or open any attachments to emails until you have confirmed that they are not malicious. Phishing emails are a common way for hackers to get at your personal information or break into your computer.
Around the holidays, beware of e-cards and messages pretending to be from companies like UPS or FedEx with links to package tracking information.
Email addresses that do not match up, typos and grammatical mistakes are common red flags of a malicious phishing email. Also beware of unsolicited emails from companies with which you have no association. Make sure you have current antivirus software and that all security patches have been installed on the computer.
Jim Winsett is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia.