As summer approaches, millions of consumers will be emerging from their winter ways and many will be engaging in leisure activities they longed for during the winter. Of course, they’ll be spending money along the way, purchasing new summer attire, eating out, and traveling. At the same time, countless unsavory characters will be searching for opportunities to take advantage of consumers. And even intelligent, normally wary folks will be caught in these scammers’ traps, a predicament that can be avoided using few simple steps, five of which are listed here.
1) Pay attention at the point of sale.
Frequently, consumers – particularly those shopping at brick & mortar establishments – are in such a rush to complete their transactions that they pay little attention to the sales clerk’s actions, often neglecting to look at their receipts before signing them. Are there charges beyond what was expected? Did the clerk immediately deposit the establishment’s copy in the register or other container specifically allotted to those receipts? Increasing awareness of how your information is handled furnishes a first line of defense against identity theft and other security risks.
2) Securely store or destroy receipts.
To enhance personal security; keep track of all purchase receipts, both printed and received via e-mail. Criminals have been known to use the information on these receipts to either access victims’ accounts or to steal their identities with catastrophic consequences. Despite the prevalence of identity crimes and increased public awareness about the issue, many consumers think nothing of wadding up their receipts and tossing them into the trash – even at the point of purchase.
3) Be wary of email solicitations.
Many scammers send out email offers that are made to look like they come from well-known and trustworthy companies, when in fact, the links in the messages redirect to sites designed to defraud viewers or infect their computers with viruses. Once you visit one of these sites, your passwords, financial account data, and personal information are unknowingly at risk, without your doing anything further.
Even if an email looks official, you’re safer going to the organization’s official site and accessing any special offers there. At the very least, hover your mouse cursor over the link found in questionable emails to check validity of the address – this will generally appear next to your cursor or at the bottom of the browser screen. If the address is not clearly related to the advertised company’s official website, you can be pretty well assured that it is a scam.
4) Shop only at trusted websites.
One critical indicator you should watch for is for the site’s address to begin with htpps, rather than http. That little “S” indicates that it is a secure site, which gives a measure of safety while shopping. Avoid any online shopping cart that doesn’t have the secure designation, and look for verification from services like Verisign© that verify the integrity of the site’s processes.
5) When shopping at online auctions such as eBay™, check the seller’s feedback rating.
Look as well at the number of transactions sellers have successfully completed before making the decision to bid or buy. Look for sellers (or buyers, if you’re selling something) who have a significant track record, and a positive response ratio of at least 98%. And if a seller tries to get you to enter into a transaction outside of the auction, decline the offer, as it is a well-established procedure used by scammers worldwide.
Common sense helps shoppers avoid consumer missteps. Remember: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” To stay safe as you navigate consumerism, pay heed to the admonitions listed above, and don’t let your excitement outweigh your good instincts. Better to pass on a purchase than to become an element in an ever-growing statistic of people who fall victim to identity theft and other scams.