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Keep your online Christmas shopping safe from fraud

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AT HOUSTON Better Business Bureau, our most popular free service is our provision of business reviews, which provide information consumers need to make wise buying decisions.
To keep with this pro-active approach and, with just weeks until Christmas, BBB wants to arm Post readers with tips to incorporate into your shopping habits now so your personal information is protected and so you’re prepared for the busiest shopping time of the year.
Here are our nine tips for the time you have in which to do your shopping:
1. Look for the lock – When shopping online or anytime you’re entering personal information on the web, make sure the website is security enabled. Look for a padlock symbol on the site’s home page and ensure that the site address, its URL, starts with https://. The “s” stands for secure.
2. Use credit cards, not cash or debit cards – Credit cards offer shoppers the most consumer protection, as long as you can keep your credit-card debt in check.
3. Check your account statements – Keep a close eye on your bank, store and credit-card statements; the sooner you recognize an unauthorized purchase, the easier it is to recover lost funds.
4. Ask about return policies – Stores and website policies differ vastly. Some stores put a time limit on returns and exchanges, some websites charge you additional shipping and handling fees for returning unwanted items and some items might be nonreturnable.
5. Keep your receipts – For big-ticket items, keep your receipts for warranty purposes. Receipts should be kept in case of return or exchange and to check against your account statements to verify you haven’t been overcharged, especially if a tip is involved.
6. Check out businesses on bbbhouston.org – If buying from a company you’re unfamiliar with or shopping from a new website, check the company’s record on our website before purchasing. We list basic company information, plus any complaints that have been filed against the business in the past three years.
7. Give wisely – Ask questions about how your donations will be used and verify the legitimacy of a charity or organization on give.org.
8. Know contact information – Before handing over money or personal information to a business, charity, website or individual, always verify their contact information. Request formal name, phone number and physical address before parting with your cash.
9. Use secure internet connections – While on the go, using WiFi at your favorite coffee shops and restaurants is a real data-saver but, when shopping online, checking your accounts or entering personal information while out and about, you’re safer using a password-protected WiFi signal or a cell-phone signal.
I have an additional tip that’s personal so I haven’t included it in the formal list. Don’t procrastinate!
I have been guilty of this many, many times. If you wait until the last minute, you are more apt to make risky decisions ¬– and I don’t mean ugly sweaters. The pressure to have something sent urgently will often make us overlook security concerns, or the vendor might make us pay extra to have an internet purchase rush-delivered. Don’t wait!
Finally, if you spot any shopping scams this holiday season, help warn others by reporting the cons on BBB Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker/us/.

Jordan Rzad is the senior director responsible for internet marketing at Houston Better Business Bureau.

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