"There are existing statutes that may require companies to provide reasonable security for sensitive information," explained Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. "It is important to shop at companies that keep your information secure, but it is also important to take precautions yourself."
The BBB offers these tips to consumers tips on how to prevent fraud:
Some mail can carry sensitive information that should be protected. It is important to install a lockable mailbox to prevent identity theft.
Keep track of what credit cards you are using and which ones have become inactive. Be sure to close any credit card accounts that are no longer necessary.
Check your account statements frequently, especially around the holidays when shopping increases. If there are any fraudulent charges deal with them immediately.
Make sure to shred any bills or offers for pre-approved credit cards.
When closing a checking account, be sure to have all the checks destroyed.
Steps to take if you have experienced fraud:
Contact local law enforcements to report the fraudulent activity and file a report.
Contact you bank and financial companies to alert that fraud has taken place. Work with the company to reset new pin numbers and get new cards. Also, if a check has been stolen alert the bank to stop accepting all checks.
Keep a close watch on your account and be sure to quickly report any fraudulent activity.
Periodically check your credit report periodically to make sure that there are not any red flags or unknown activity.
Steps to take if you experience fraud with an online company:
First, determine what information was saved in your online profile with the company. If credit card information was saved in the profile, be sure to cancel your card and alert your bank for possible fraudulent activity.
If the email saved in the profile is your main one, be on the lookout for scams and viruses that could be targeted toward you.
If there was information included in your profile such as your social security number seek identity theft protection. Companies should not have asked for your social security number to begin with and contact the company to cover the costs of identity theft.
Brick and Mortar shopping tips:
Review the return policies. Before making a purchase, ask the merchant about its refund and exchange policy.
Research before you shop - Check out Business Reviews at www.bbb.org http://www.bbb.org to make sure you are dealing with a reputable business that will guarantee the sale prices they claim to have.
Know Store Policies - Knowing store policies on returns can help you determine where to buy.
Online shopping Tips:
Shop on trustworthy websites -Always look for the BBB seal and other widely-recognized "trustmarks" on retailer websites and click on the seals to confirm that they are valid.
Beware of deals that sound too good to be true - Offers on websites and in unsolicited e-mails can often sound too good to be true, especially extremely low prices on hard-to-get items. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Confirm that your online purchase is secure - Shoppers should always look in the address box for the "s" in https:// and in the lower-right corner for the "lock" symbol before paying. If there are any doubts about a site, the BBB recommends right-clicking anywhere on the page and select "Properties." This will let you see the real URL (website address) and the dialog box will reveal whether the site is not encrypted.
Pay with a credit card - It's best to use a credit card, because under Federal law, the shopper can dispute the charges if he or she doesn't receive the item Shoppers also have dispute rights if there are unauthorized charges on their credit card, and many card issuers have "zero liability" policies under which the card holder pays nothing if someone steals the credit card number and uses it.
Keep documentation of your order - After completing the online order process, there may be a final confirmation page or the shopper might receive confirmation by e-mail. The BBB recommends saving a copy of the Web page and any e-mails for future reference. For more advice on finding reputable businesses around the holidays, visit www.bbb.org