The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

December 6, 2013

Beware of thieves and fraud while shopping


TARBORO — Holiday season is arriving and everyone is shopping. And so are the criminals who lurk on unsuspecting shoppers. As you look for the latest gadgets and try to find deals at stores, the thieves are looking for their best deals as well.

They are searching for people shopping by themselves and are looking for elderly shoppers whom they can take advantage of. The criminals are also using gadgets of their own to gather your credit card information to use your money to buy their Christmas gifts at your expense.

Edgecombe County Sheriff James Knight warns citizens about the criminal activity that takes place during the holiday season and especially the thieves who target the unsuspected shoppers.

While you are shopping, sometimes you can become careless and vulnerable to other crimes, like credit card fraud and gift card fraud. Those two crimes are on the rise and to make sure your protected you need to take a few preventive measures.

Make sure you keep a close watch on your credit card every time you use it and get it back from the cashier as quick as possible if someone is around you while you are paying for your items.

To keep fraud from happening make sure you do not write your pin number on your card and never leave it lying around nor the receipts you have from your purchases.

"Shield your credit card number so that others around you can't copy it or capture it with a photo from their phone or camera," Knight said. "Just carry credit cards that you plan to use."

If you plan on purchasing something online, only use websites that secure your credit card information with Secure Socket Layer (SSL). You can tell the webpage is secure by looking for the gold lock or key icon at the bottom corner or your browser window.

"If you're not comfortable submitting your information through the Internet then you can call the seller and give your information over the phone," Knight said. "Make sure to never send your information through an email."

Another sign to look for when shopping online is to look for businesses that provide their physical address and telephone number on their website. Those are the safer sites. Keep good records and always print out a copy of any online products or services you purchase.

If you are purchasing a gift card, do not buy one from an auction site. That is a large source of gift card fraud, according to Knight.

"Only buy gift cards directly from the store issuing the gift card or from a secure website of the retailer's," Knight said. "Always examine the gift card before you purchase it. If you see a PIN number ask for a different card and if the card looks like it's been tampered with put it back."

Make sure the store clerk scans your gift card in front of you, because this will guarantee you the card is valid when you buy it.

When you are out shopping at local stores be safe and try to have someone with you if possible, because criminals tend not to target multiples in pairs who are shopping together.

"A single shopper is the best target for theft," Knight said. "Always shop with a friend or relative. When you go shopping and tell some where you are going and what time you expect to return."

When you leave to adventure out, make sure someone knows what you are wearing and what you are driving and where you are going, for safety reasons.

To be on the safe side, a good idea is to shop during the daylight hours, but if you decide to shop at night, park in a well-lit area.

"Pay careful attention to your surroundings and avoid overloading yourself with packages," Knight said. "It is very important to have clear visibility and freedom of motion to avoid mishaps."

Knight warns people, to check around their vehicles and inside of it before getting into it.

"Be aware of strangers approaching you for any reason," Knight said. "Make sure you have your keys in your hand to avoid spending unnecessary time unprotected from the security of your vehicle. If you feel uneasy about returning to your vehicle alone, find a security guard and ask them to walk to your vehicle with you."