“The holiday season is right around the corner and shoppers are crowding stores and shopping online for the latest gadgets and to find the best deals,” said Sheriff Joey Lemons of Stokes County.
Shoppers also need to consider their safety when shopping in person and online. According to Lemons, “This time of year attracts more shopping-related criminal activity because of the larger crowds and the extended store hours. These factors, and the usual distraction of shopping, create a more favorable environment for petty thieves and other offenders.”
The sheriff reminds all Stokes County residents to follow several safety tips for both in-person and online shopping.
In-person shopping safety:
• A single shopper is the best target for theft. Always shop with a friend or relative.
• When going shopping, tell someone where you are going and what time to expect you to return. Also, make sure they know what you are wearing, as well as the type of vehicle you are driving.
• Shop during daylight hours. If you shop at night, park your vehicle in a well-lit area.
• Dress casually and comfortably and avoid wearing expensive jewelry. If carrying cash, keep it in your front pocket rather than in a purse or wallet. This makes it much more difficult for a pick pocketer to remove.
• Store car keys in your pants or jacket pocket. If your purse/wallet is stolen, you will still be able to drive home.
• Pay careful attention to your surroundings and avoid overloading yourself with packages. It is important to have clear visibility and freedom of motion to avoid mishaps.
• When returning to your vehicle, look around it and in the back seat. Be aware of strangers approaching you for any reason. Have your car keys in your hand to avoid spending unnecessary time unprotected from the security of your vehicle.
• If you feel uneasy returning to your vehicle alone, find a security guard and ask them to walk you to your car.
According to Lemons, “During this time of year, busy holiday shoppers become careless and vulnerable to credit and gift card fraud. Online scammers are also on the rise. However, taking a few preventive measures can help.”
Online shopping safety:
• Make sure the web page where you enter your credit card information is secure through SSL (Secure Socket Layer). The URL that starts with “https” rather than just “http” is SSL secure. A lock icon may also appear before the “https” to indicate a secure website.
• Only shop on websites you trust or have questioned. Almost any major retail store’s website will be safe to shop. Stay away from suspicious or unfamiliar online retailers.
• Avoid using public Wi-Fi while shopping online. Using public Wi-Fi can leave your personal information vulnerable to hackers.
• Do not save sensitive information, such as passwords or credit card information, on your phone or computer.
• Keep good records. Always print out a copy of any online product or service you purchase.
• Have items shipped to a secure location. If you are not going to be home, consider having packages delivered somewhere to keep them off the sidewalks or porches.
• Install multi-factor authentication on your accounts to lessen the possibility of getting hacked.
• Never send your credit card information via email.
• Check a company’s information on their website. Only do business with companies that provide a physical address and telephone number.
• Do not click on links or attachments unless you are confident about where they came from. Cyber criminals often send emails that look like they are from retailers to try and gain your personal information.
• Consider purchasing items online with a credit card rather than a debit card. Debit cards draw directly from your bank account, which means fraudulent charges can leave you with insufficient funds for other bills. If you don’t have a credit card, consider using a prepaid debit card.
Credit Card Fraud:
• Keep a close watch on your credit card every time you use it, and make sure you get it back as quickly as possible.
• Never write your PIN number on your credit card.
• Never leave your credit cards or receipts lying around.
• Shield your credit card number so that others around you cannot copy it or capture it on a mobile telephone or other camera.
• Only carry credit cards that you absolutely need.
• Shred anything with your credit card number written on it.
• Check credit card and bank statements frequently for any fraudulent charges.
• Sign up for transaction alerts.
• Consider signing up for identity theft protection services.
• If your credit card is lost or stolen, report it immediately.
Gift Card Fraud:
• Never buy gift cards from online auction sites. This is a large source of gift card fraud. Many of the gift cards are stolen, counterfeit or used.
• Only buy gift cards directly from the store issuing the gift card or from a secure retailer’s website.
• Do not buy gift cards off publicly displayed racks in retail stores, because these are more susceptible to tampering or theft. Only purchase gift cards at the sales terminal from the cashier.
• Check a gift card before buying it and make sure the protective stickers are still intact. Ask for or purchase a different card if you believe the gift card has been tampered with in any way.
• Always ask the store cashier to scan the gift card in front of you. This will guarantee that your card is valid when you buy it and that it reflects the balance you just charged on it.
• Always keep your receipt as a proof of purchase if there is money stored on the gift card.
• If possible, register your gift card at the store’s website.
• Never give your Social Security number, date of birth or any other unneeded private information when purchasing a gift card. No reputable company will ask for this information.
In light of these problems, Lemons warns shoppers to be careful so that they don’t become victims of criminal activity.
“Unfortunately, when shopping online and in-person, people have a tendency to let their guard down,” said Sheriff Joey Lemons. “However, paying attention and taking precautions can help eliminate their chances of being victimized.”