SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today shared tips to help California consumers shop safely during the holiday season.
“As Californians prepare to shop for their loved ones this holiday season, it is important that they take cautionary steps to protect themselves from scammers and other bad actors,” said Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “I encourage consumers to educate themselves on ways to guard their hard-earned money this season.”
Tips for Safe Spending
Frequently monitor your credit and debit card accounts for suspicious transactions and report any unusual activity to the card-issuing bank. This is especially important to do if there has been a data breach that may involve your card. Ask the bank for online monitoring and alerts on the card account, which will give you early warning of any fraudulent transactions. To protect yourself from fraudulent transactions, cancel your card as soon as suspicious activity is reported on your card and get a replacement card with a different number. You can also contact one of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) to place a free initial fraud alert.
Never provide your account information to someone you don’t know, especially over the phone. If you receive a call from your bank or credit union requesting a verification of your account information for security purposes, let the caller know that you will call them back and call the number listed on your card or account statement. Do not respond if you receive an email from someone claiming to be from your bank or credit union – it is a scam.
Most, but not all, retail stores will allow you to return items you buy within a reasonable time for a full refund, credit, or exchange. In California, a store must clearly display its return policy if it does not offer a refund, credit, or exchange for items returned with a receipt within seven days. There are some exceptions made to this rule, including for perishable goods, goods marked “as is,” and customized goods. Make sure you check the store’s return policy before you buy.
Online Purchases – Avoid Online Scams
Be Suspicious: If the price of an item seems too good to be true, it most likely is. The seller might not send you anything at all, or the item you get may be counterfeit or stolen.
Get the Details: Make sure to read the item description closely, as the fine print may explain that the item is not what is advertised or contains hidden fees.
Research the Company: Before you make a big purchase, take time to research the company to make sure it is legitimate. Search online for customer feedback, complaints, and reviews. Don’t just rely on reviews that the company posts on its website. You can also look up the company and review consumer complaints on the Better Business Bureau’s website by searching for where the company is located or doing business.
Use a Credit Card: The law allows you to dispute charges on your credit card if something goes wrong. Do not pay with cash, money order, bitcoin, or wire transfers because you will lose the ability to reverse the charge if something goes wrong.
Make Sure You Have a Secure Connection: Do not provide any personal or financial information online without making sure that the website you are on is secure. You can do this by looking at the URL address to see if it begins with “https” (the “s” indicates that the site is secure) and/or has a lock icon displayed. Do not submit any form of payment via email; it is not a safe way to transmit financial information.
Keep Records: Save your receipts, the advertised description and price of the product, and any communications with the seller. Always check your credit card statements to protect yourself from any surprise charges.
Use a Known Device: Public computers, such as those in hotel business centers, may contain viruses and malware that can steal your information. Don’t use them for online purchases or accessing your accounts.
Keep Your Device Secure: Update your system, browser, and apps regularly. Take advantage of automatic updating when available. These updates can eliminate software flaws that allow hackers to view your activity or steal your information. For mobile devices, be sure to install phone updates that are distributed automatically.
Know Your Wi-Fi: Don’t use free wireless networks when you shop online. Waiting until you have a secure connection is a smart and easy way to bypass identity theft and financial fraud.
Choose Strong Passwords: You can protect your devices and accounts from intruders by choosing passwords that are hard to guess. Use strong passwords that contain at least eight characters, a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. Refrain from using words that can be easily found in a dictionary or any references to personal information (such as your birthday). You should also use different passwords for different sites.
Do Not Click on Pop-Ups: Hackers can use pop-ups to infect your computer with malware, so never click on a pop-up window.
Be Aware of Apps: Scammers can use mobile apps and games to hide malware that steals your personal information. Do not download apps unless they are from a known source and have third-party reviews that verify their legitimacy.
If You are a Victim of an Online Scam: If you have problems during an online transaction, first try to work it out with the seller or online site. If that does not work, call your credit card company to dispute and reverse the charge as soon as possible. You can also report the company to the Attorney General’s Public Inquiry Unit, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Better Business Bureau.
Other Shopping and Spending Tips
Everyone loves a good deal, but price tags and sale signs may exaggerate how much of a markdown you’re really getting. For example, “compare at” prices and signs saying “50% off” are common, but the items may have never actually been sold at the higher price. Similarly, many items at outlets and factory stores are lower-quality, made-for-outlet products that are different from the products sold at regular retail stores.
Avoid payday loans and other high-interest loans if at all possible. Often, a short-term loan that is meant to tide you over for the season can turn into a cycle of high-interest loans that cannot be paid back without taking out more loans.
Zero-interest financing and credit cards may contain hidden terms, such as high fees or high interest rates if you miss a payment. Make sure you understand all terms before accepting an offer, and make sure you make all scheduled payments on time.
Additional Consumer Resources
More consumer tips and information are available at https://oag.ca.gov/consumers.
Consumers can also file a complaint with the Department of Justice using the following form: http://oag.ca.gov/contact/consumer-complaint-against-business-or-company.