Tips offered to aid shoppers avoid problems

Tips offered to aid shoppers avoid problems

Identity theft ande disputes involving gift purchases can spoil the holiday season.

In the excitement of a holiday season filled with the spirit of giving, it can be easy for people to take for granted the honesty of others.

“The joy of the holiday season can quickly be spoiled by crimes like identity theft or disputes involving gift purchases,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett said in a press release. “Consumers should carefully consider all their purchases and charitable gifts and not allow the excitement of the season to rush them into hasty decisions that can be regretful and costly.”

Corbett and others have some tips to help consumers avoid the most common scams and problems during the holiday season.

Review a store’s exchange policy before making a purchase. Retailers can make their own policy regarding returns.

“All shoppers should be aware of a retailer’s return policy,” said Kathy Bailey, general manager of the Cranberry Mall.

Check for expiration dates and maintenance fees on gift cards and gift certificates. Look at receipts before leaving a store for possible errors. And, keep all records and receipts in case a return or repair becomes necessary.

Bailey suggests shoppers keep these items protected, like one would a purse or wallet, and shred anything with their name on it. Thieves aren’t above digging through the trash.

Carry a minimum number of credit cards and leave your Social Security card at home; identity thieves can use these items to wreak havoc.

When shopping online, research a seller before making a purchase to determine if the business has a history of consumer problems. Reputable online retailers will explain what personal information they collect and whether they disclose this data to third parties; the privacy policy will cover this.

Use updated anti-virus and firewall protection on your computer to block hackers from accessing personal information like credit card and banking numbers. Be mindful that scam artists use “look alike” Web sites to collect credit card numbers for their criminal purposes.

Print all confirmation numbers, receipts and communications between you and the retailer. Be sure of the shipping costs and times.

Identity thieves troll for personal information in the dirtiest of places, so shred documents containing this information, including unwanted credit card applications. Do not provide information about yourself until you know who you are dealing with since identity thieves often impersonate representatives of banks, Internet service providers and even government agencies.

Closely review credit card and banking statements in order to detect fraudulent purchase as soon as possible. Another method of detection is your credit report; check yours several times per year with each of the three credit bureaus to spot potential problems.

When the spirit of giving compels charitable donations, feel free to ask as many questions as you like. If you support the a charity’s cause and feel comfortable with it, the organization should be able to provide you with written information about their activities, such as their administrative and fund-raising expenses.

If a solicitor comes to your home, ask for credentials before making a donation and always write the check to the organizations, not the person collecting the money. Watch for fraudulent charities that use names that closely resemble respectable organizations. Information on charities is available on the Pennsylvania Department of State’s Web site,

The attorney general’s Web site ( can provide additional information on identity theft and other related topics.

Florida Shredding