Stay merry but also alert: Tips to avoid thieves and online scams this holiday season

(WSVN) - With the holiday shopping season in full swing, it’s the time of year to stay merry, but also alert. December is prime time for thieves and scammers. 7’s Brian Entin shows us what to watch out for at malls and online.

Packed parking lots. Big sales. Hurried shoppers. The holiday season can bring out the best in people, and the worst.

Joseph Lomonaco, BSO Deputy: “That’s when the criminals start coming out as well, because they start to see more opportunity.”

Lomonaco took us up in one of the Broward Sheriff’s Office’s eye-in-the-sky surveillance towers.

Joseph Lomonaco: “Having this, a bird’s-eye view, is extremely important for law enforcement. We get a good view of the entire parking lot.”

It’s easy to spot simple mistakes, like shoppers talking or texting on cellphones, instead of paying attention to their surroundings.

Joseph Lomonaco: “It’s a mentality. It’s a mindset where you are not going to become a victim. Your head is going to be looking left to right, and a criminal is going to notice this about you, and he’ll more likely move on to somebody else.”

Criminals also notice jewelry and cash, so don’t be flashy when shopping. Stores are open later, so deputies recommend parking close to mall entrances when it’s dark. And if you can, shop with a buddy.

Joseph Lomonaco: “If you’re parking at night, you do want to park underneath bright lights. And this is so that you, as you’re walking back to your car, can see any potential threats that are around you.”

Police step up security at malls and shopping centers around the holidays, but with more than half of holiday shopping done online, digital thieves can be harder to catch.

Mary Barzee Flores, Florida Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture & Consumer Services: “At this time of year, I will tell you, there are a number of scams. One that’s going on right now is a text scam.”

The text claims your bank account has been compromised and urges you to click a link or call a number to enter or verify personal information.

Mary Barzee Flores: “You think, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s the card I’m using for all my holiday shopping.’ It tells you to call a certain number.”

Don’t fall for it. Instead, call the number on the back of your credit card if you think there’s an issue.

Mary Barzee Flores: “I’ll tell you, another scam this time of year are fake retail sites.”

Scammers create bogus websites and apps that look legit, so it’s important to pay attention to anomalies.

Mary Barzee Flores: “Just an example: Pottery Barn’s website is potterybarn.com, it’s not pbarn.com. It’s not potterybarn.christmasshopping.com.”

A few more tips:

  • Enable mobile phone alerts on your credit cards, so you will know instantly when there is a new charge.
  • Sign up for two-factor authentication on sites like Amazon, which requires your password and a special code texted to your phone to make an online purchase.
  • Don’t use public Wi-Fi to shop.

And when those gifts are set to be delivered, here’s what you can do.

Joseph Lomonaco: “Keep the tracking history of your purchase, know when it’s going to arrive, and either have someone there who is going to pick it up for you or call a neighbor to help you out.”

That last bit of advice will help protect your packages from those dreaded porch pirates we see so many of every year.

For more shopping safety tips, ways to file consumer complaints, or to check out charities, click on the links below.

SHOPPING SAFETY TIPS:
www.myfloridalegal.com/newsrel.nsf/newsreleases/1E93A564E7EEE1D1852584BD004FC7A9
www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2019/11/ftcs-tips-happy-holiday-shopping

FILE A COMPLAINT:
www.fdacs.gov/Contact-Us/File-a-Complaint
www.myfloridalegal.com
www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/?utm_source=takeaction#crnt&panel1-1

CHECK CHARITIES:
www.csapp.800helpfla.com/CSPublicApp/CheckACharity/CheckACharity.aspx
www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/tax-exempt-organization-search
www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/how-donate-wisely-and-avoid-charity-scams

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954-921-CLUE
clue@wsvn.com

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