MARTINSBURG — With online shopping becoming a more popular choice of commerce during the holiday season, especially during months of pandemic precautions, state and local leadership and law enforcement are encouraging shoppers to be extra vigilant while gift shopping over the next few weeks.
According to Martinsburg Police Chief George Swartwood, citizens should be very careful how and with whom they interact with while shopping for that perfect gift, to be sure they are keeping themselves and their finances protected from possible scams.
“There are several frauds that happen during the holiday, so we would urge all persons to not give out vital, personal information about themselves to those who solicit it online or by phone,” Swartwood said. “This includes your date of birth, social security or credit or debit card numbers, nor should you send money to people or groups you are wary of.”
According to a press release shared by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, he recommends that consumers limit their use of debit cards and be aware of fraudulent websites or coupons that resemble the real thing.
Credit cards, whether shopping online or in store, provide the best protection to dispute charges when goods or services do not arrive as promised. Debit cards, in contrast, are no different than cash and come with no special protection.
In-store shoppers also should leave Social Security cards and other nonessential information at home, lock presents away in the trunk, watch for skimming devices and use an RFID blocking sleeve or wallet to protect credit/debit cards from electronic pickpockets.
According to the release, online shoppers also should watch for spelling mistakes, low-quality images and ensure URL addresses legitimately match the known retailer’s website to help consumers identify fraudulent websites or illegitimate coupon offers created to steal money and personal information.
The release said consumers should rely upon secure payment systems, avoid money transfers to unknown people and make sure any payment website starts with “https://” as the “s” indicates a secure page.
In addition to online and phone-related purchases, Swartwood urged shoppers to be careful and secure with their homes, as well, keeping gifts out of view of the public when in the house or in the car.
Swartwood also urged shoppers to be cognizant of their surroundings when shopping in person.
Both the attorney general’s press release and Swartwood agree anyone who feels as though they have been scammed while shopping should alert local law enforcement, call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 1(800) 368-8808, the Eastern Panhandle Consumer Protection Office in Martinsburg at (304) 267-0239 or visit the office online at www.wvago.gov.