Last-minute holiday shopping is ‘one of the keys to success for crooks,’ expert says. How to stay safe

Personal finance

Betsie Van der Meer | Getty

If you’re a last-minute holiday shopper still checking off the remaining gifts on your list, beware: You could be putting yourself at risk for fraud.

“Procrastination is, quite frankly, one of the keys to success for crooks,” Paul Fabara, chief risk officer at Visa, recently told CNBC.

“They assume that you’re going to fall for that last-minute offer that guarantees delivery of the product within 24 hours, or even the same day, at a discounted price,” Fabara said.

If you become victim to one of these schemes, not only will you not get what you ordered, but you may also receive transactions on your account that you never personally authorized.

To avoid that, Visa has flagged some best practices for secure shopping this season.

1. Avoid shopping on public Wi-Fi

Since public Wi-Fi networks are not secured, your personal information may be more likely to be stolen.

2. Use secure websites

Be sure to check that a website address starts with “https://” to ensure your data is encrypted and your connection is secure.

3. Do a background check on web retailers

If you’re shopping with an online retailer for the first time, do a search to verify it is legitimate and see what other customers have said. Even if you’re shopping with a familiar brand, check to see its customer satisfaction ratings and customer feedback. The Better Business Bureau may also list a profile of a company and any complaints it may have against it.

“It just takes a few moments to do some sort of a cross check just to make sure that you’re dealing with who you think you are dealing with,” Fabara said.

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4. Take extra steps to protect your accounts

Be sure to use unique and strong passwords for bank accounts, credit cards and online accounts with retailers. Also implement two-factor authentication that requires you to use more than just a password to verify your identify.

5. Beware of deals that sound too good to be true

If a website has an otherwise sold-out item at a great price and expedited shipping, think before you buy. That too-good-to-be true offer may not be real.

Unsuspecting consumers are prone to getting duped when it comes to the hot toy or item of the season, noted Melanie McGovern, spokeswoman for the International Association of Better Business Bureaus.

If a social media ad pops up showing the item available for an inexpensive price when it’s sold out everywhere else, be wary, she said.

If you do find you’ve fallen prey to a scam, the best first step is to contact your bank, credit card company or other financial institution to let them know your information has been compromised, according to Fabara.

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