Hood warns about holiday shopping scams, safety

Published 4:50 pm Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The holiday season is a busy season for everyone, especially crooks watching for opportunities to take advantage of inattentive shoppers.

Attorney General Jim Hood is issuing a warning to Mississippians to be alert to the most popular holiday scams, whether shopping at the mall or on the Internet.

The Internet offers a variety of opportunities for crooks, particularly those wishing to steal your identity.

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“The key to safe shopping on the Internet is to never share unnecessary personal information such as Social Security numbers or bank account numbers,” said Hood. “If you use a credit/debit card, do so on websites for well-established businesses and only through secure websites.”

Always go directly to the merchant’s website by typing in the proper web address. A secure website will begin with https; the “s” indicates a secure website. Never follow links from e-mails or pop-ups. If you post something for sale on the Internet, be wary of all buyers. Con artists are savvy and can be very convincing. Beware of buyers who appear to be from outside the U.S., especially those who will not give a telephone number or physical address. Never, ever send money to someone who is supposed to be buying something from you, and don’t mail your product until you have the buyer’s money in hand.

Aside from the risk of personal attack, one needs to be really alert while out shopping in malls or other stores.

“Crooks are always looking for cars filled with packages to break into,” said Hood. He suggests taking packages home or keeping them hidden away in the trunk when between stores.

“Whenever possible, pay with cash,” said Hood. “There is always the risk of someone skimming your credit card or getting your bank account info from a check. It doesn’t take much for a crook to steal your identity.”

Also be on the lookout for counterfeit products. Especially during the holiday shopping season, some unscrupulous merchants may try to pass off counterfeit goods to unsuspecting customers.

“Consumers need to be very wary of any merchandise that is being sold at an unreasonably low price or that is being sold outside the normal retail supply chain,” said Hood.

It is illegal to sell or purchase counterfeit goods. According to the World Trade Organization and the Office of Homeland Security, counterfeit product sales is the largest crime of the early 21st century and one of the top four preferred methods to fund international terrorism. More than 80 percent of all counterfeit products being sold throughout the world are manufactured in China with much of it being produced with child labor. Last year in the U.S. alone, counterfeit sales cost the national economy more than $250 billion.

The Office of the Attorney General regularly receives reports of various telemarketing scams. These take many forms but nearly all involve marketers requesting personal information they have no business asking for. Some of the scams include callers posing as representatives of Publisher’s Clearing House, the Social Security Administration, IRS and Medicaid.

“No legitimate business or government agency will contact you asking for personal information,” said Hood. “Being a smart consumer can ensure that you have a happy and safe holiday.”

If you feel you have been a victim of a scam or have information that may help catch these crooks, call the Attorney General’s Office, Division of Consumer Protection at 1-800-281-4418.