By James I. Marasco | Partner
Since the holidays are again upon us, it was important to revisit some important shopping safeguarding tips. In our haste to attain the perfect item or score the best price, we sometimes let our guard down. Thieves prey on unassuming victims this time of the year. Don’t help fill their stocking. Safeguard yourself from becoming their next holiday victim.
Shopping at the Brick and Mortar Stores
For many it’s become a ritual – grab your friend or family member and head out to the mall to whittle down that shopping list. From the time you arrive, you may be watched. Consider these safeguards:
- Don’t leave valuables or a significant amount of purchases in your vehicle. Thieves watch for those making trips to their vehicle to unload their purchases. They also scan your vehicle for purses, cell phones or other devices in plain view. Try to park in well lit areas or in those where people frequently pass. And of course, lock your doors and set an alarm if your vehicle is equipped.
- As you walk through the crowded stores and malls, don’t leave your cell phones or wallets exposed or in back pockets. Use inside coat or front pockets where it’s more challenging for someone to lift these items unnoticed. For those carrying purses, keep them closed and secured. Don’t leave them unattended in shopping carts and carry only what’s needed. Don’t travel with your social security card, passport or other items that won’t be required for this particular trip.
- Don’t leave your purchases or other personal items unattended in dressing rooms and inspect what you’re purchasing. If the box looks opened, have a clerk inspect it with you to ensure everything is intact. When purchasing clothes, check the garment closely for stains, rips, tears or shoddy stitching.
- If you’re using a credit card to make a purchase, don’t let it out of your sight or allow others to snap a quick photo or get a good look at it.. Most stores now allow you to swipe or insert your own card. Don’t be rushed – remember to secure it back in your purse or wallet before completing the transaction.
- For vendors who support mobile payment technology which offers superior security over conventional systems, consider using Apple, Samsung or Google Pay.
- If traveling outside the country, verify that your credit cards will work in vendor terminals or may require PINs. Also, inquire if any foreign transaction fees will be charged. Some bank cards will charge a percentage of the transaction, while others waive these charges.
- Keep your receipts! Some retailers won’t return the items or refund you if you don’t have the receipt or will offer you the lowest price they charged during the past few months. In addition, if you charged the item, check it against your credit card statement to ensure it was processed correctly. If purchasing a gift card, consider giving the receipt along with the card to the recipient, in case the amount ends up differing from what was originally communicated.
- Be weary of seasonal vendors who set up temporary operations. You may not have the ability to return any merchandise after the holiday season when they disappear. In addition, if paying by credit card, make sure they use modern technology to safeguard your information. If they are using hand swipe card systems with carbon paper, you may want to pay in cash.
- While walking in public, disable your cell phone’s blue tooth capability. Data thieves thrive on open devices where they gain access to your device and harvest your online banking, contacts and other confidential information. Also, refrain from using public WiFi while taking a shopping break. If you are logging into any personal accounts or email, you should only connect through a secured network.
- Before you donate to anyone asking, make sure they represent a reputable group and properly identify themselves as a member or representative of that group. It’s advisable to pay anything larger than pocket change by check.
- If you like to shop alone and later in the evening, make sure you’re not being followed as you leave the stores and keep your keys and cell phone accessible as you leave the store.
Shopping on the Internet
If the stores or malls aren’t your thing and you’ve decided to shop online, you should take some precautions.
- Assuming your shopping is being conducted from home, ensure your network is secure and your computer is equipped with antivirus software.
- Shop at trusted sites. If you desire something on a site you’re not familiar with, check to see if someone has suffered any bad experiences. Sites like www.ripoffreport.com or www.onlinebusinessbureau.com can be used in your research. Read through the return policies and the associated costs to return items. In addition to incurring shipping costs, some vendors may charge a restocking fee.
- Consider paying by PayPal or another reputable type of service that processes your transaction and offers a layer of security buffering you from the online retailer. If you use a credit card, consider using one exclusively for online purposes or closely monitor the activity on it so you can be alerted sooner than later for illicit activity. Refrain from using a debit card. Although it’s tempting, don’t elect to save your payment information on sites – enter it each time you shop on the site.
- If sites require you to set up an account with a username and password, use a unique password. Don’t repeat the same password for all of your logins and keep them in a safe spot or use a password maintainer program.
- Watch out for hidden costs! Many people expect shipping and sales tax to be thrown in for free and don’t consider these costs when comparing against the local retailers. As a result of disputes and negotiated settlements, sites like Amazon and Wayfair are now charging sales tax in most states. Standard shipping may be advertised as free on some sites; however, their default option may cost you. Watch the final amount being charged and don’t click final until you feel comfortable with what you’re being charged. A foreign-based site may also result in a foreign transaction fee being charged by your credit card.
By heeding a few of these warnings, you’ll safeguard yourself from becoming another crime statistic and have one less thing to worry about during the holiday season.
About Jim Marasco: Jim is a Partner at EFPR Group, LLP and one of the Founding Members of StoneBridge Business Partners, an affiliated consulting firm. He is a member of the firm’s Business Valuation, Litigation Support & Forensic Services Group and other nontraditional accounting services. Jim has been with EFPR Group for over 20 years and is a full-time management consultant traveling extensively throughout the country. He has helped safeguard some of the largest Fortune 1000 companies from fraud and abuse and has assisted in the identification and recovery of millions of dollars back to the affected parties. His experience is mainly concentrated in the healthcare distribution and franchise fields, where he has worked with over fifty of the top franchisors in the U.S. In addition, he has worked closely with the Catholic Church in the U.S. for the past five years assisting in their compliance efforts to ensure the safety of children within the church. Jim is also a court-recognized expert, lecturer and author on varying subjects of fraud and forensic auditing.