As we enter the holiday season, it pays to be vigilant to avoid scams or slip-ups that could put a damper on your celebrations. Here are some ways to keep your holidays happy.

Beware of deals.  Be wary of those too-good-to-be-true deals, especially those that show up as links on your social media feeds. Check out reviews, search the retailer’s name with “scam” to see what comes up, and if it’s a retailer you already know and frequent online, go directly to the website rather than clicking on a link.

Buying gift cards? Consider this. Thieves can hit store gift card racks, secretly write down or scan the numbers off the cards, then check online or call the toll-free number to see if someone has bought the cards and activated them. As soon as a card is active, the scammers drain the funds. By the time your gift recipient tries to use the card, the money is long gone.  Safely purchase gift cards directly from the store clerk – and ask them to scan the card to make sure it has the correct value.

Keep the debit card in your wallet. Consumer protection experts recommend the use of credit cards rather than debit cards for most purchases, to protect from fraud and theft. With credit cards, you are liable for only up to $50 of fraudulent use. In the case of a lost or stolen debit card, your financial loss could be much higher.

Sign for those package deliveries. Package delivery companies are not responsible for stolen packages left at your front door without requiring a delivery signature.  And watch out for phishing scams claiming to be from UPS, FedEx and the US Postal Service asking you to click a link to solve a delivery issue.

Be mindful when applying for temporary holiday jobs. Bogus online job applications for holiday help ask for personally identifiable information, especially your Social Security number. Don’t share your number with anyone unless you absolutely have to, and never provide it until you confirm you are dealing with a real organization looking for employees.

Is that really a holiday e-card? Fake e-cards can carry malicious software or contain unwanted advertising. Clues of a fake card include not knowing the sender, not being familiar with the e-card company, and misspellings.

The SD Attorney General’s Division of Consumer Protection is also encouraging consumers to shop with care this holiday season. They offer the following tips to help South Dakotans hang onto more of their hard earned money.

Tips on Holiday Shopping:

  • Check the refund and return policies for restrictions and exceptions
  • When buying gift cards, check for fees and expiration dates that apply
  • Read the fine print
  • Double check delivery dates
  • Keep your receipts to make returns and exchanges easier
  • Review warranties
  • Compare prices
  • Check shipping and handling fees

Online Shopping Tips:

  • Consumers using the internet to find the perfect gift should avoid using email links. These links can appear to be from a known business, but may be coming from a different company altogether
  • Always ensure you are shopping on a secure site
  • Use credit cards for online purchases. If there is a problem with the purchase it is much easier to dispute the charges
  • Be leery of businesses who are offering deep discounts. If it sounds too good to be true, then it likely is, so shop with reputable sellers
  • Screenshot your order confirmation for reference. Websites get flooded and orders can get lost

Smartphone Shopping Tips:

  • Be sure your computer and mobile devices are current with all software updates
  • Be cautious of social media scams including fake Twitter and Facebook pages.Stick to the sites that you are familiar with and do not click on unfamiliar links
  • Research price comparison apps. There are many malicious mobile apps just waiting to be downloaded
  • Do not download apps from unknown sources

If you think you’ve been the victim of a seasonal scam, alert the SD Division of Consumer Protections by visiting www.consumer.sd.gov or calling 1-800-300-1986.They can investigate your claim and help to warn other South Dakotans to stay vigilant.

When it comes to fraud, vigilance is our number one weapon. You can join the Fraud Watch Network and receive alerts about scams happening in South Dakota. Any one of any age can join for free by visiting aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork or to receive Fraud Watch Network alerts by phone, call 1-866-542-8172.