It’s the time of year you love or hate … getting ready for the winter holidays. People are out in droves looking for those perfect gifts. Even if you steered far from the Black Friday frenzy, you know that the next few weeks are going to feature trips to crowded stores.
If you’ve finished your holiday shopping, kudos to you! You are ahead of most of us. But there’s still a good chance you may find yourself needing to make a trip to your local Target, Walmart or Walgreens during December, even if it’s to pick up household necessities.
While most people are just going about their merry way, reveling in the Christmas spirit, there are bound to be a few grinches out there who may want to steal your fun … and your wallet! So, especially at this time of year, you should be extra careful when you are out shopping.
Here are some tips to practice safe holiday shopping:
On the Internet …
Always make sure your anti-virus software is up-to-date. Keep your personal information private and your password secure.
Stick to business websites that you know. Use websites for big name retailers like Target, Walmart, Kohl’s, Macys, etc. Or use reputable online-only retailers like Amazon, Wayfair, Overstock, Zappos, etc. Make sure to review their shipping and return policies before you make a purchase. If you use a site such as ebay or Etsy, review the seller’s background, policies and feedback first.
Legitimate businesses will never ask for your password. They will NOT ask you to click on an unsolicited email to verify your account. So unless you initiated the contact, do not click! Additionally, you can ignore any email that says a Nigerian Prince is giving you money, that Aunt Sally is in jail and needs cash right now, or that the IRS is investigating you. (If you do have an Aunt Sally and she is in jail, you’ll hopefully get a phone call, not an email.)
If you get an email that looks somewhat legit but asks you to click on something, don’t do it. One such example is an email from PayPal that says you have authorized a large payment for something you know you didn’t purchase. It might look like it came from PayPal. It might have the logo and appear all official-like. But the minute it asks you to click on a link, that’s your red flag. If you are concerned, most companies have an email account you can send suspicious emails to. For PayPal, you can forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the store …
Keep your purse close at all times. Do not leave it in a cart! Purse snatchers are quick and are always looking for opportunity. Don’t give them one.
Know the prices of what you are purchasing. Make note of signs advertising sale prices and watch as the items are scanned.
Save your receipts. Keep them at least until the credit card bills or bank statements come in. If they are gifts, ask the cashier for gift receipts and place them with the item for safe keeping.
Always have your keys in your hand when approaching your vehicle. Make a quick check of the back seat and around and under the car as you approach and before getting in. When loading your car, again, keep your purse on you. If you put it in the car, make sure the passenger side doors are locked. Most cars, when you unlock the back doors, all of the doors unlock.
Do not leave packages visible through your car windows. Lock them in the trunk or, if possible, take them directly home. If you have to place them in the back seat, cover them with a blanket. Again, thieves are looking for easy targets.
If you are shopping with children, keep them close and make sure they know what to do if they get separated from you.
Getting everything home …
Remember … whatever you buy, you have to carry. All that shopping can add up when you’re carrying multiple bags around the mall. Distribute the items into equal weights and carry some in each hand to wreak less havoc on your body. Ask a store associate for help getting large items out to your car.
If you can, take your packages back to your car and place them in the trunk. Again, try to avoid putting your packages in the back seat where they are visible. And always be aware of your surroundings in the parking lot.
You also have to get these items from the store to your home. So before you make a purchase of a large item, make sure it will fit into your car. Bring a tape measure with you. Last thing you want is to get that large flat screen TV all the way out to your car and find out it doesn’t fit!
When you do get home, don’t be a hero! There is no prize for bringing all of your bags inside in one trip. Take your time. And if you have purchased something large or heavy, plan ahead to have help getting it inside.
Shipped items …
Keep track of your online purchases and when they are scheduled to ship. Save and/or print out tracking numbers and request text updates. You will be notified by text when the item is shipped, when it’s out for delivery and when it’s delivered. If your item does not arrive when it is supposed to, recheck the tracking information and contact the seller to be sure it shipped to the correct address.
Have purchases shipped to an alternate location if you won’t be home. Thieves, dubbed ‘porch pirates,’ have been known to take packages right off front porches. Some will even follow delivery trucks, waiting for an opportunity. According to Insurancequotes.com, more than 20 million packages were reported stolen from homes last year. So consider having your item shipped to a friend or family member who will be home. Additionally, if you order from Amazon.com, they offer self-service delivery locations called Amazon Lockers, where customers can pick up and return Amazon.com packages. There are locations in and around major cities. You can find out if there is a location near you on their website.