AG releases safety tips to avoid holiday fraud

For Craig resident Jennifer Germond, trying to find Christmas gifts for her husband and five kids, as well as her extended family, can be tough in a small town.

That's why this Christmas, Germond cast her shopping net into the 'Net, seeking a wider selection of gifts through online shopping.

"I've just found better selection and better prices (online)," she said. "Even with having to pay for shipping, I've found better pricing."

Is Germond concerned over fraud with online shopping?

"A little bit, but not too much," she said. "Most of the Web sites that I visit are pretty popular ones, like Wal-Mart, and they usually have the security thing, saying it's a secure site. So I'm trusting them with my info."

Using a trusted, familiar Web site -- like Germond did -- is one of 10 tips to avoid fraud during the holiday season, according to a release from Colorado Attorney John Suthers.

The Attorney General's Office receives more complaints on fraudulent activity during the holiday season than any other time of year.

"The holidays are a busy time of year for thieves," Suthers said. "By keeping a few tips in mind, you can prevent them from taking advantage of you and your wallet."

While Internet fraud is a problem statewide, Craig Police Chief Walt Vannata said there isn't a flood of Internet fraud reports coming into Craig's department.

"But anytime it occurs, it is obviously an issue," he said.

Vannata encourages residents to be careful online.

"If it were me, I wouldn't be doing business with anybody that I didn't contact," the chief said.

Vanatta said a good place to look out for online safety information is online.

Vanatta's other piece of advice if people are worried about holiday shopping and online fraud?

"Shop local," he said.

That's a sentiment Craig Chamber of Commerce executive director Christina Currie agreed with.

"Craig retailers offer a pretty wide variety and some unique things," she said.

Currie said online shopping doesn't seem to create a big retail leakage, or loss in retail sales, in Craig, but areas showing retail loss in Craig include jewelry, luggage, books and music.

But other than the 32 percent retail leakage in electronics sales, "I don't see that being holiday related," Currie said.

As for Germond, she plans to keep shopping online, or "at least until Wal-Mart is in town," as she looks for a bigger selection.

"I think (shopping online) is pretty dependable," she said.

Jerry Raehal can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 204, or jraehal@craigdailypress.com

Top 10 tips to avoid becoming a victim of fraud this season

1.When buying online, always know who you're dealing with. Anyone can set up shop online. Confirm a store's URL by calling. Never input financial data into a pop-up message, or in response to an unsolicited email, as a legitimate business will never ask for such information this way.

2. Keep a paper trail. Print and save records of all your transactions, including receipts and product descriptions.

3. Update your security software. Updated software includes anti-phishing features to protect against fake sites that attempt to trick consumers into purchasing or divulging personal data. Never download so-called anti-spyware products pushed through pop-up messages or unsolicited e-mail.

4. Shop on a site that encrypts data. Look for the URL to begin with "https" instead of "http." On the checkout page, make sure there is a padlock icon in the lower right-hand border of the browser window.

5. Purchase gift cards from customer service agents not from display racks. Gift cards purchased from a display rack are an easy target for crooks, who can write down the card numbers and wait a few days until the card is actually purchased and activated. They are then able to go online and start shopping with your card.

6. Check a company's history with the Better Business Bureau. Consumers can easily inquire with the BBB to check a company's reputation and history of complaints. To file a complaint with the Attorney General's Office, call the office's Colorado Consumer Line at 1-800-444-2222. Consumers can also e-mail the office at stop.fraud@state.co.us.

7. Give wisely and beware of charity fraud. During the holiday season, charity fraud is most popular. Be careful of charities that use similar sounding names as legitimate charities. Consumers should check the registration status, financial statements, and campaign reports of charities and paid solicitors before making any charitable donation. That information is available on the Secretary of State's Web site at: www.sos.state.co....>

8. Carefully review account statements and credit card activity. Detecting fraud early increases your chances of recuperating your money from unauthorized purchases.

9. Protect your credit card numbers. To prevent fraudulent charges, make sure sales clerks make only one impression of your credit card and never give your credit card number to someone unsolicited.

10. Beware of e-mails that offer loans or credit. Scam artists can take advantage of cash-strapped consumers over the holidays by offering personal loans for an upfront fee.

Source: Colorado Office of the Attorney General, Better Business Bureau, Federal Trade Commission

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