Black Friday and Cyber Monday: Safe Shopping Tips

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With the economy downturn this year, merchants have more ads and sales to entice people to get out and shop this holiday season. Whether you are shopping in the store or online, be sure to use the following tips to be safe.

Black Friday
Starting the Friday after Thanksgiving, malls, large retailers like Target and Best Buy, and grocery stores are more crowded than usual with shoppers – and thieves. Security in most places have been increased for the holiday season, but if you are out and about, ensure your safety with these tips from the National Crime Prevention Council:

Keep careful track of your bags and packages. Do not carry more than you can handle. Make frequent trips to your car to unload, and put the bags in the trunk or in a hidden place in your car. If you purchase a large or expensive item, it may be well worth it to drive the purchase home and return to the store for more shopping, instead of risking a break-in.

If you see unattended bags or packages, do not try to take the package back to the retailer on the bag or find the owner. Tell a security guard or store employee, and they will secure the package.

Check your receipts for accurate information. Your full credit card number should not appear on the receipt, but if it does, put the receipt in a safe place so you don’t accidently drop it while shopping. Someone could pick this up and use the information to make unauthorized purchases.

If you shop with children, have a plan in case you are separated. Have a central meeting place, and review with your children who is a safe person to approach, such as a mall security guard. Ensure that each child knows your cell phone number – you may want to print a card with emergency information and put it in your child’s coat or pants pocket.

Guard your money. Take only as much cash as you think you will need, and only take one or two credit cards. Keep your wallet close to you, and not in a large purse that you have to shuffle through every time you make a purchase. Keeping your wallet under your sweater, instead of in a coat pocket, can prevent pick-pocketing.

When getting cash from the ATM or using your debit card at the counter, be sure to guard your PIN number. Stand close to the keypad to block anyone who may be looking over your shoulder.

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Be aware of your surroundings and do not walk in abandoned areas alone. Park under a light if possible, and walk in a well lit part of the parking lot if you are shopping after dark.

Cyber Monday
SafeShopping.org is an informational site created by the American Bar Association to help you order safely while shopping online. They offer these tips to prevent identity theft and shopping mishaps:

You can tell the internet connection is secure when there is a picture of an unbroken key or closed lock in your browser window. Either icon indicates that the merchant site is secure and your sensitive information, such as your credit card number, cannot be read by anyone else but the retailer. Make sure that the web address that asks for personal information starts with “https” instead of “http”. Some websites may use a pop up box that indicates a secure area or uses the term “Secure Sockets Layer” (SSL).

The safest way to pay online is by credit card. If your information is stolen and you have an unauthorized charge on your credit card, under federal law your liability is limited to $50. If you do have an unauthorized charge, you should give written notice to both the merchant and the credit card company within 60 days.

Unless you are sure of the address, do not send personal information via email. Email does not offer the same protection as these secure websites. Identity thieves can make up emails that look like secure websites, so if you receive an inquiry for personal information from someone you do not recognize, do not send personal information.

If you are more comfortable giving information over the phone rather than the web, most merchants offer this option. Be sure you record the phone number, company name, date and time of your call, and the name of the person who recorded your credit card number.

If you use a password for orders, make it different than the one you use to log into your computer or network. You may even want to create a special, stronger password that is harder for hackers to crack for web purchases. Do not use birthdates, addresses, phone numbers, recognizable words, or children’s names as passwords, as these are too easy to figure out.

To avoid computer viruses, do not open an attached file that ends in “.exe” as they could activate a computer virus and damage the information stored on your computer. Use a reliable anti-virus software program as well.

Web retailers are not yet required by law to maintain the privacy of people who order from their sites, so they may collect names, addresses, and other information and use these for marketing, or they may sell the information to other merchants and telemarketers. Check to see that the site you are ordering from has a privacy policy that ensures your name does not get sold for spam.

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