Volume 1 Number 52
December 27, 2004





Take steps to avoid being snagged by shopping scams

Chances are good that you will do at least some of your holiday shopping online this year. With online fraud growing bigger every day, it is worth your while to know how some of the popular shopping scams work and what you can do to protect yourself. Whether you are a shopper or seller, keep these tips in mind.

First, don't be quick to provide personal information. If you must give it out, be sure to use a secure browser.

Second, know whom you are doing business with. Shop online at reputable sites. Buy from easily recognized companies that have "brick and mortar" retail locations and that do e-commerce as a supplement to its regular retail business. If you must do business with a company you don't know, then investigate the Web site.

Many e-businesses explain their security policies and procedures on their Web sites. If it is not listed, send the company an e-mail asking them to explain how they protect information from hackers. If you don't want your personal information shared with others, be sure the business you are dealing with will honor your privacy request.

Keep your passwords private. Avoid using telephone numbers, birth dates or portions of your social security number. Use a random selection of numbers, letters and symbols. Also, use different passwords for different Web sites. That way if one password is jeopardized, the others will still be secure.

Keep good records of your online purchases. If you think you have been defrauded or want to dispute a charge you will need a record of what you did online. Print out purchase orders and confirmation numbers and save credit card statements. These items may become evidence if a crime has been committed.

The dangers of online credit card fraud for retailers are much less publicized but the problems are just as big. You should take time to validate purchase orders. Don't accept orders that have incomplete information, particularly addresses and phone numbers. Consider address verifications for all credit card orders. Watch for red flags of fraud such as different "bill to" and "ship to" addresses. If you receive an order with different shipping and billing addresses, ask the buyer to send you a fax with their signature and credit card number authorizing the deal.

Be especially cautious when processing larger than normal orders, especially if the buyer is requesting overnight delivery. While you don't want to miss out on a large sale, it could be an identity theft swindle being perpetrated at the destination address.

Likewise, be extra cautious with international orders. Swindlers residing outside of the United States pull frauds regularly on American businesses because they know you will not expend the funds or time required to investigate or settle an international dispute. If you accept international transactions be sure to validate the transaction as much as possible before you ship products to another country.

To play it really safe, insist on advance payment before shipping your product. That way you know you will be paid.

If you find yourself a victim of credit card fraud, contact your merchant processor as soon as you become suspicious. The merchant provider can help you determine if the transaction is legitimate. They can probably give you the name of the cardholder's bank so you can verify owner information.

Mark Mathosian is a financial administrator with the Florida Department of Financial Services, Office of Financial Regulation. He can be reached at mathosianm@dfs .state.fl.us or by calling 338-2445.

The skyline for December is downtown Gainesville, featuring the Hippodrome Theater, originally the post office.