FRANKFORT, Ky. (December 3, 2012) - With the holiday shopping season underway, Attorney General Jack Conway urges Kentucky consumers to be wary of seasonal scams and identity theft. A record number of consumers are turning to their smart phones, tablets and computers for their holiday shopping needs, which has scammers working overtime to develop fraudulent emails and text messages to gain access to your personal information and your identity.
"Shoppers should be leery of text messages or pop-up ads offering products such as iPads or gift cards for free or at heavily discounted rates," General Conway said. "These offers, or phishing scams, can contain a potential virus or malware that detects personal information such as usernames, passwords or even credit card details. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."
General Conway's Office of Consumer Protection has seen an increase in complaints related to fraudulent text messages. Some appear to come from a reputable store, while others involve sweepstakes. The text messages may indicate that consumers have won a sweepstakes or a shopping spree for purchases in a particular store. They are asked to call a number for details or respond to the text. Consumers should not respond, as it only confirms for the scammer that the cell phone numbers are valid and they may attempt to use enticements to obtain personal information from the consumer.
Additionally, consumers need to be careful of malicious mobile apps designed to steal information from smartphones or distribute expensive text messages without a user's consent. Malicious apps are usually offered for free and involve some type of fun application or game.
Seasonal phishing scams often come disguised as requests for charitable contributions, electronic greeting cards, online shopping advertisements or credit card applications. More sophisticated scammers have even mimicked an electronic shipping update notice from companies like UPS or Amazon.com.
"These fraudulent emails can contain viruses or direct consumers to legitimate-looking websites where they are asked to provide personal and financial information to scam artists," General Conway said. "Consumers who fall victim to phishing or malware scams risk having their finances compromised, identities stolen and jeopardized safety."
Tips for safe online shopping:
• Only do business with companies you know and trust and that offer secure payment processing. Look for websites that start with https, (the "s" stands for secure).
• To protect yourself against these seasonal phishing scams, verify the communication by calling the company or by logging into your account directly from the business' website.
• Never do business with someone who insists that you wire money.
• Using credit cards while shopping online can offer extra protection. Consider designating one credit card with a lower credit limit for online purchases.
• Keep personal information private. Don't disclose your address, phone number, Social Security number or bank account information to a stranger.
• Never respond to emails or pop-up ads that ask for your personal or financial information.
• Avoid storing credit card information online.
When buying a gift card, only buy from reputable sources that you know and trust. It is also wise to give the recipient the terms and conditions point of sale material, as well as the receipt confirming the amount purchased on the card. Additionally, consumers should avoid buying gift cards from online auction or "for sale" listing sites, as they can be counterfeit.
If you are the victim of a consumer scam, help is available by contacting the Office of the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-888-432-9257 or by visiting ag.ky.gov/civil/consumerprotection. An identity theft packet is also available.