A lump of coal for the holidays

Published 6:53 pm Monday, November 30, 2015

On Black Friday, many holiday shoppers braved malls and chain stores in an attempt to get great deals on Christmas gifts. On “Cyber Monday,” many virtual shoppers did the same, flocking to websites for bargains. Where Friday saw fights, pushing and shoving to get first dibs on gifts, Monday saw so much traffic to some websites, it sent them crashing down into Internet obscurity on the biggest online shopping day of the year.

While many cyber shoppers stay home to avoid the stress of the crowds, not to mention the physical dangers, shopping online is not without its dangers, according to North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. Even sitting at home in their pajamas in front of the computer, online buyers should beware.

First, use only trusted websites and those unknown sites can be researched through the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division and the local Better Business Bureau. Make sure any website asking for a credit card number has a lock icon preceding an address that starts with “https.” The lock and the extra “S” denote security measures in place to prevent personal information from being stolen.

Any website asking a buyer for personal information like Social Security, driver’s license and bank account numbers during the transaction is not aboveboard — they should be avoided.

Buyers should make sure they know how to contact a company if there’s a problem with an order by verifying a street address and phone number. Remember that no U.S. or state agency has any legal authority over business deals with websites/companies based in other countries.

When an order comes, make sure that delivery requires a signature, because many holiday thieves follow delivery trucks on their rounds, looking for the opportunity to steal packages left on doorsteps.

Cyber shopping may be easy for those with the technological know-how, but there are still many risks involved. Whether braving the shopping crowds or the Internet, keep in mind that 17.6 million U.S. residents experienced identity theft in 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Just as Jolly Old St. Nick is making a list and checking it twice, holiday shoppers in stores and online should be making a list of their transactions and checking them with their banks.

Identity theft looks remarkably like a lump of coal.