The holidays are a joyous time to spend with loved ones and many of us enjoy exchanging gifts and donating to charitable causes. While we continue to navigate the pandemic, many people have chosen to stay home and shop online, however with shipping deadlines creeping up, many people are hitting the stores to finish up their holiday shopping. Unfortunately, crowded stores aren’t all that shoppers have to be aware of. There are a high volume of thieves and scam artists who want to take advantage of the holiday spirit of giving. Here are some tips from the Hollywood Police Department to help you ensure your purchases and donations don't end up costing you more than you expected:
Shopping in Stores
- Do not buy more than you can carry. Plan ahead by taking someone with you or ask a store employee to help you carry your packages to the car.
- Consider alternate options to pay for your merchandise, such as one-time or multi-use disposable credit cards or money orders.
- Wait until asked before taking out your credit card or checkbook. An enterprising thief would love to shoulder surf to get your account information.
- Tell a security guard or store employee if you see an unattended bag or package. The same applies if you are using mass transit or walking to and from your car.
- Deter pick-pockets. Carry your purse close to your body or your wallet inside a coat or front trouser pocket.
- Carry only the credit cards you need and avoid carrying large amounts of cash.
- When shopping with small children, keep them close to you and make a plan in case you are separated from each other. Select a central meeting place and teach them how to identify mall personnel or security if they need help.
- Teach children to never leave the store until you find one another.
- When parking your vehicle to go shopping, remember where you parked it! Always park in a well-lit and well-traveled area. Do not park in a remote dark area.
- Have your keys in hand when approaching your vehicle. You will be ready to unlock the door and will not be delayed by fumbling and looking for your keys.
- When you return to your vehicle, scan the interior of your car to be sure no one is hiding inside. Check to see if you are being followed.
- Do not leave packages visible in your car windows. When storing items purchased at the stores, place them out of sight. The best place is in a locked trunk or if possible, take them directly home.
- Do not leave any valuables (i.e. your purse, wallet, or cellular telephone) in plain view in your vehicle.
- Lock your vehicle and put up your windows, even while you are driving.
- If you go to an automatic teller machine for cash, check for people around you and make sure it is well lit and in a safe location.
- Drive defensively. Traffic is heavier during the holidays. Drivers may also have indulged in too much holiday spirits.
- When shopping online, it’s wise to pay with a credit card instead of a debit card if possible. Both allow you to dispute a charge if the merchandise never arrives or is different from what was ordered. However, with a debit card, the price will have already been deducted from your bank account and it will take time to get your money back.
- When ordering online, look to ensure that your browser is a secure connection. In the address bar, a padlock should appear if your browsing session is secure.
- Some credit card providers offer one-time card numbers to be used for online transactions to further protect your financial information. Contact your financial institution to see if they offer such a service.
- Keep your personal information safe. Never provide your credit card, bank account information or social security number to a stranger. No reputable vendor or service provider will ever initiate a call and ask you for this information over the phone.
- Save all receipts. Print and save all confirmations from your online purchases. Start a file folder to keep all receipts together and to help you verify credit card or bank statements as they come in.
- Beware of the "good deal" scams. Things are not always what they appear to be.
Holiday Charity Scams
- Be sure the charity is legitimate. Check to see if they are a registered charity with the State Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at https://www.fdacs.gov/Consumer-Resources/Charities or by calling 1.800.HELP.FLA. While there, be sure you check to understand how much of the donation will actually go toward the work of the charity as opposed to administrative expenses.
- Contact the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance at http://give.org or by calling 703.247.9321 to determine if the charity you are donating to has any complaints against them.
- Watch for similar sounding charities. It’s not unusual for scam artists to choose names that sound like the names of legitimate, widely known charities.
- Never give your credit card number or bank account information to a caller on the phone or someone who sent you an unsolicited email. If you are interested in donating to a charity that has initiated contact with you, ask them to send you a pledge form and information about the charity in the mail. Legitimate charities should have no problem with this request.
- Most tax-exempt organizations are also required to file an annual return or notice with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS Code requires automatic revocation of a charity’s tax-exempt status (some charities are exempt from this requirement) if it fails to file a return for three consecutive years. Publication of an organization’s name on the Auto Revocation list on the IRS website helps potential donors determine the status of a charity. To learn more about the tax-exempt status of a charity, go to www.irs.gov and search the Charities and Non-Profits topics.
Being mindful of these important tips to safeguard your identity, avoid scams and shop safely can help ensure you have a happy, healthy and safe holiday season.