Consumer Protection Offers Tips to Avoid Holiday Scams

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With the holiday shopping season upon us, the Hawai‘i Office of Consumer Protection is cautioning consumers to beware of scams and deceptive advertising while shopping at stores and online.

“During the holiday season consumers need to be particularly vigilant in protecting themselves from scammers,” said Stephen Levins, executive director of the Office of Consumer Protection. “Don’t provide personal information to anyone unless you’re absolutely certain you know with whom you’re dealing and never wire money to pay for anything.”

The Office of Consumer Protection offers consumers a few tips to avoid getting scammed this holiday season:

  • Gift Cards: Beware of gift cards that have been tampered with. Avoid buying in-store racked cards with easily accessible numbers and PINs. If you buy in a retail store, look for gift cards kept behind the counter or in well-sealed packaging. If possible, change the security code as soon as you buy the card and change the PIN and register the card when you get home.
  • Online Coupons: Be careful in clicking on online coupons. Scam sites tempt consumers to click on online coupons for the sole purpose of obtaining personal information.
  • Look-alike Websites: Consumers will see an increase in the number of mailers and email alerts announcing deals, gifts, and sales. While the mailers and email alerts may look like they are from legitimate businesses, the links provided may lead to look-alike websites meant to trick you into providing personal information or give identity thieves an opportunity to download malware onto your computer. Carefully read website addresses to ensure you are shopping on a legitimate website.
  • Security Certificates: To ensure that you are shopping on a secure website, make sure the website begins with “https” and has a small padlock icon next to the webpage address. Keep your computer, tablet or smartphone up-to-date and install security software.
  • Unusual Forms of Payments: Legitimate online merchants will not use wire transfers, prepaid debit or gift cards, or third parties to collect payment for purchases. Be wary of anyone asking for these forms of payment as they often cannot be traced and undone.
  • Use Your Credit Card: With a credit card, you’ll pay no more than $50 in the event of fraudulent transactions. It also offers dispute rights if something goes wrong with the merchandise or the purchase.
  • Fake Shipping Notifications: If you shop online, you can expect delivery notifications throughout the holiday season. Be on the lookout for phishing scams that use a legitimate business’ name and logo to trick you into opening a fake email shipping notification to gain access to your personal information and passwords. Remember that delivery services do not require you to provide your personal information or pay money to deliver your packages. Scammers take advantage of the busy time by sending convincing phishing emails appearing to be from UPS, FedEx, and the USPS – click those links and you are led to phony sign-in pages asking for your personal information.
  • Bait and Switch: Some stores may advertise goods at low prices, but when you get to the store the price may be higher than advertised or the product might not be available. The best way to ensure you are getting the advertised price is to bring a copy of the ad with you when you shop in the store.
  • Check the Charity: Be very cautious of unsolicited phone calls, emails, and texts looking for donations. Before donating to a charity, make sure you know exactly where your money will go—and how much will be going to administrative fees. Verify the organization through the Hawai‘i Attorney General Charity Search, or Charity Navigator.

Consumers who believe they have been a victim of a holiday shopping scam can file a complaint with the Office of Consumer Protection at (808) 587-4272 or online.



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