Sheriff Michael J. Bouchard wants to remind people that awareness of shopping or charity scams, whether online, through the mail, or in person, and knowing what to look out for, can help prevent citizens from becoming a victim.
“Criminals are looking for easy targets and victims, especially during the holiday shopping season,” said Bouchard. “Whether you are shopping online in the comfort of your home, shopping at a local mall, getting a package delivered or donating to a charity, you must be aware of those who are trying to take advantage during the busy shopping and giving time.”
When shopping online, make sure the website/online retailer you are purchasing from is reputable. Fake websites are prevalent, so do some research before making a purchase if you are unfamiliar with a site or retailer.
Enter the name of the website address or business into a search engine, along with the word “scam” or “fraud” and see what comes up. Some comparison shopping sites like Shopping.com, Pricegrabber.com, or Nextag.com have reviews and ratings for certain retailers. Fake sellers might also send you emails or place online ads, so be cautious before making a purchase. Even if it looks legitimate, it may not be.
Make sure if you are ordering online that you are doing so on a secure server. Secure servers web addresses begin with ‘https’ rather than ‘http’.
Shopping in town/at the malls
When shopping at local retailers, make sure you park in an area that is well lit if you plan on being there in the evening. Do not leave any packages in plain view in your vehicle. Lock them in your trunk where no one will be able to see them. Do not overload yourself by carrying too many packages, preventing you from having your car keys handy.
While shopping, be careful in crowds, as simple pickpocketing or purse-snatching is still a common practice. Be careful of people who may try to bump into or jostle you in an attempt to lift your wallet or snatch your purse. If you put your purse in a shopping cart, never leave it unattended.
If your purse or wallet does get stolen, you should call to have your credit cards canceled.
When shopping on the busiest shopping days, be vigilant on the roads, practice defensive driving, and plan for busy traffic. Do not lose your temper or fight over a purchase.
If shopping with children, plan a meeting spot if they separated and make sure your children have memorized your cell phone number or 9-1-1 in case of an emergency.
Mail Order Deliveries
Many people ordering online or via phone or catalog order have their packages delivered to their homes through by FedEx, UPS, Amazon, or USPS.
If the mail service provides a tracking number for your package, try to track it and be home when the delivery arrives.
Porch pirates, or those who steal unattended packages off porches, increase their criminal activity around the holidays and look for boxes delivered to residential homes. If possible, install a doorbell camera or surveillance camera to deter the porch pirates. If you are a victim of a theft, contact your local police agency and provide any footage.
If you cannot be at home, it is recommended you have packages delivered to a safe, secure location where there is someone to accept the package. Alternatively, you may want to use a ‘delivery locker’ where you can later obtain your package from its secured drop-off.
Holiday Charity Scams
The holidays are a ripe time for scammers out trying to take advantage of people’s generosity. Give cautiously and always check out a charity’s legitimacy before giving if you are unfamiliar with the charity.
Fake charities will frequently set up a legitimate-looking logo or business card, or name themselves something similar to a real charity. They may set up at a mall, call you at home, email you, or come to your door with small children in tow and a sad story. Do not donate to a charity until you are sure they are reputable. Get the organization’s name and look it up online. Check out Charity Navigator, GuideStar, or GiveWell. Also, the Better Business Bureau’s website offers information on national charities on their website at www.give.org.
Once you have done your research, consider donating to the charity directly, rather than giving money to a person claiming to represent it. Writing a check to a charity will help you document your donation for your records and tax return.
Also, ask what percentage of the donation goes directly to the cause. Legitimate charities are used to this question and know the answer. Get a receipt from the charity with their name on it. And finally, be wary of charities claiming to be raising funds for local police or firefighters. Always check with the agency first before donating.