‘Tis the season: Shoppers beware

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By Joshua Shepherd

The Harrison County Sheriff’s office received two reports of attempted phone scams last week. While the office receives similar reports throughout the year, the holiday season is a time when incidences of such fraud peaks.
The incidents that were reported to the sheriff’s office were not specifically related to the holidays. On Nov. 12, Susanna Loch reported that she had received a call from someone claiming to represent the Wal-Mart Mobile Pharmacy service.
Wal-Mart has no such service.
Earlier that same week, Connie Webber reported having received a call from someone claiming to be an investigator with the Manhattan Chase credit card company.
The caller said that they had received a suspicious charge on Webber’s card and were checking to see if the charge was valid. Webber informed the caller that she did possess that type of credit card.
Det. Paul Olin of the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department said the type of credit card scam attempted against Webber is frequent throughout the year, but does occur more often around Christmas.
“These people will randomly call homes reporting the same thing - that they have found someone illegally using a credit card. If the person they contact doesn’t have that card, they just hang up and randomly dial a new number until they find someone who says ‘yes’,” Olin said.
There are legitimate calls that a credit card company  may make to check on odd purchases — especially on large ticket items, Olin said, but they will not ask for their customer’s credit card number to verify the purchase.
“If they ask for you to provide a number, it’s a scam,” he said.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday holiday shopping is also a fertile ground for people to get taken, said Heather Clary, director of communications with the Better Business Bureau office in Lexington.
Since the majority of Black Friday shopping are consumers looking to pounce on the best deal at major shopping centers, the BBB said the majority of complaints they receive come from shoppers trying to exchange items after Christmas.
“For those people who like to get their holiday shopping done early, make sure that you understand the company’s policies on refunds or exchanges,” Clary said.
Many stores have a 30-day limit for refunds or exchanges on items bought in their store. By the time a gift is received Christmas day, there may not be much time left to make an exchange, she said.
“There are no laws governing refunds or exchanges. Individual stores set their own policies. Some have 30-day or 60-day policies. Some stores charge a re-stocking fee,” Clary said.
Companies post their policies on refunds and exchanges on their website or in their stores. It is a good idea to do some advance planning to make sure about these details before you buy, she said.
Another bit of advice is to request a company provide a gift receipt for purchased items.
“A gift receipt doesn’t have the price of the item on it. Include it with the present in case they need to return it for some reason,” she advised.
On-line shopping is a fertile area for scammers and Cyber-Monday shopping is a time when many shoppers not only take risks with the items they purchase, but also with identity theft.
Though Black Friday is known as the day to score on excellent holiday deals, the axiom remains true. If it’s too good to be true, then it’s a scam, Clary said.
“Beware of pop-up advertisements for incredible deals from unknown sites,” Clary warned. “Don’t get caught up in the fever of finding an incredible discount for popular items like I-Pads or other tablets or devices. Most people are safer to stay with established companies.”
There are, however, some smaller companies that are doing business on the internet. There is no reason not to spread the spending out, but it pays to do some homework first.
Find out the physical location of the store to avoid buying overseas or from some offshore scam, Clary said. Ignore offers that arrive through email or social media sites. Social media and email are among the most unsecured areas on a computer, according to the BBB.
“Don’t be fooled by a professional looking website. Scammers are also excellent design artists and can make their site look legitimate. Call them before you buy. Check out buyer reviews of the company,” Clary said.
When it comes to internet purchases, the BBB advises to use a credit card rather than a debit card or money order.
“Credit cards have greater and more sophisticated protections. You can stop payment and it’s less likely for a scam artist to get away with much,” Clary said.
The bottom line, though, is to practice some common sense and not get caught up in the discount buying frenzy that can cloud a shopper’s better judgment.