Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus and District Attorney David M. Hoovler are urging residents to remain alert for internet and social media-based shopping scams as the holiday season kicks into full gear.
Neuhaus and Hoovler noted that scams of all kinds have become more prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Federal Trade Commission, there have been approximately 220,000 complaints about COVID-19 related scams nationwide, resulting in a loss of $157 million.
“It is frustrating and disheartening that scammers are taking advantage of the pandemic to prey upon residents, and it will not be tolerated,” Neuhaus said. “Online shopping offers convenience and safety during these times, and most companies are reputable. However, it’s important be vigilant to avoid becoming a victim. If you have a question, concern or complaint, I urge you to contact our Consumer Affairs Department, the District Attorney’s Office or local law enforcement.”
Online shopping protocols
Hoovler offered the following tips for residents who shop online and correspond with companies via email during the holiday season:
Avoid companies with poor customer service.
There are two easy ways to investigate this and consumers should use both. Review a company’s Better Business Bureau rating and history (bbb.org) and conduct a web search of the company or product name using words such as “complaint” or “return.”
Read the return policy carefully before buying.
Look out for return policies that are vague or ambiguous; policies that require consumers to get “permission” to return items; and policies that require returns be sent overseas at the customer’s expense.
Don’t mistake a social media “like” for a review of the company’s performance.
Some companies pay individuals to promote their products, and some people who share or like product photos may not have made purchases.
Use credit cards instead of debit cards when shopping at sites new to you.
Credit cards provide fraud protections that debit cards do not. Using your debit card can give criminals access to your entire bank account.
‘Avoid ‘before time runs out’ messages
Any email that has a great sense of urgency, an immediate or near-term call for you to take an action quickly “before time runs out” can often lead to phishing, the fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information or data from a consumer, such as usernames, passwords and credit card details.
Be leary of requests for private information
Consumers should be extra vigilant for any request from an email or on a website that wants you to submit some private information, including a password, a credit card or bank card number, social security number or your address.
“During the pandemic, scammers have taken advantage of consumers with a variety of scams,” Hoovler said. “COVID-19 created an unprecedented disruption in our lives which has caused many, particularly seniors, to use the internet in ways they are not accustomed to.
“Consumers should shop directly on business websites, not through links for deals or offers,” the district attorney added. “If you go to a specific website, you should make sure you are directed there. You should consistently confirm that the website(s) you are using are secure.”
What to do
Consumers who have been victims of any scams should immediately report it to local law enforcement. Anyone who thinks they may be a victim of fraud can call the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Response Center at (877) 382-4357.
For more information, contact the County’s Consumer Affairs Office at 845-360-6703 or District Attorney Hoovler’s Office at 845-291-2050.