LANSING, Mich. — As families prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving and other traditions to welcome in the holidays, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is launching a holiday consumer protection campaign focused on ways to protect your information if you’ll be hitting stores in-person or online over the weekend.
Beginning Wednesday and continuing through mid-December, the attorney general’s website will focus on educating consumers on the numerous tactics used to cheat them out of their funds during the holidays, according to a news release.
“The holidays fly by every single year,” Nessel said. “And while everyone is focused on celebrating their traditions and checking off those gift lists, it’s imperative we all keep in mind ways to protect our personal and bank information from bad actors.”
Nessel kicked off her campaign ahead of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday by reissuing three consumer alerts.
The first focuses on ways to keep credit card accounts safe from those who’d like to get their hands on your information and money.
Those tips include creating a strong password and PIN that is unique to only that specific credit card, as well as keeping the information private and shredding documents like statements before they go in the trash.
Nessel also reissued her online shopping and wise charitable giving consumer alerts.
- Research the retailer. You’ll know the business and their existing inventory if you’re visiting a store, but on the web some businesses are fabricated by people who just want your credit card information or other personal details. Avoid online retailers if you cannot verify their listed physical locations and customer service phone numbers. Then, double-check any listed information is legitimate by putting them in an online search.
- Do an online image search of the product and any other images the seller has posted to see where the product is coming from, how much it really costs and who else is selling it.
- When making online purchases, pay with a credit card, which provide protections that allow you to dispute charges if an item is not delivered or is not as advertised.
- When donating this holiday season, consider reviewing the AG Charity Search Database to verify worthy causes.
- Those looking to shop local are encouraged to check out the Michigan Economic Development Corporation Support Local campaign, which provides resources online to help residents shop and eat local.
FOX 17 spoke with Nessel on Friday, and she says it’s also a good idea to update all antivirus and anti-spyware software on computers and mobile devices. She also says your settings should be set so that future updates will download automatically.
A pop-up blocker is also recommended to minimize the risk of opening bad files or clicking malicious links.
When shopping online, Nessel advises not to do so from a public WiFi. Make sure your WiFi at home is running on a secure network. Nessel says installing a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is also a valid option.
The attorney general suggests shopping from websites that have Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption, which can be determined by a URL that begins with “https” as opposed to “http.”
“And you'll know it because there's a locked padlock icon that will appear just to the left of the URL in the web address bar,” Nessel explains.
Nessel also says to make sure the retailer you’re buying from is real.
“Because there's a lot of fake, fraudulent online retailers out there, people just trying to scam you,” says Nessel. “And they don't actually have a store and don't actually have any products.” She says when in doubt, check the customer reviews and search for the store on the Better Business Bureau’s website.
Another red flag that the retailer may be fraudulent is the absence of a phone number and/or the option to return products.
Nessel also recommends exercising caution around luxury items.
“I will say that if you are shopping on Instagram, or in Facebook — what we're seeing is for luxury goods — about one in four of those items turns out to actually be a counterfeit.”
Strong passwords are highly recommended, as are passwords that are unique to only your bank account.
If you get scammed or lose your identity, you can file a report with the Michigan Department of Attorney General here.
“And you'll be able to talk to a real person and we will walk you through step by step how to reclaim your identity,” says Nessel.