SAN FRANCISCO -- Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today issued a consumer alert with tips for the holiday season on how Californians can make the most of their charitable giving through smart donations and protect themselves from identity theft when shopping online.
Tips for safe shopping:
- Shop on secure websites. One clue about which websites are safe and which are not is to look for a yellow padlock in the browser bar or ‘https’ in the web address (the ‘s’ stands for ‘secure’).
- Don’t make purchases over a free Wi-Fi hotspot like at a coffee shop, which can be scanned by those looking to capture your passwords and other information.
- Never send personal or financial information through e-mail. Legitimate companies will not ask you to do so because it is not a secure way to transfer sensitive information.
- If you are receiving text messages on your cell phone saying you have won a prize or gift card, do not click on the link in the message – it is most likely a scam and may install a virus on your phone.
- To get the full value of a gift card, use it right away. Gift cards that are lost or stolen are not always replaceable. Retailer or restaurant gift cards do not have expiration dates, but bank cards, like Visa or MasterCard gift cards, or cards issued by a mall that can be used at different stores, may sometimes have expiration dates.
- Know the return policies of the retailers you shop with before you leave the store or conclude an online transaction. Many retailers will give you a refund if you have a receipt and your return is prompt, but some may only give store credit. Ask a clerk if the policy is not posted at the register.
Tips for donating wisely:
- Make sure your charitable donations are well spent and serving the activities you support by working with a local charity as a volunteer or by contacting the charity directly to make a donation.
- If you are contacted by a solicitor on behalf of a charity, ask if he/she works for a commercial fundraiser and what percentage of donations being raised is going directly to the charity. You may prefer to contact the charity directly to make a donation.
- If a solicitor tells you the donation is for your local police, firefighter or other public safety agency, check directly with the agency to avoid a potential scam.
- Make charitable contributions by writing a check or by credit card directly on a charity's website. If donating by check, use the full name of the charity rather than initials or an abbreviation. Do not give your credit card number to a telephone solicitor or in response to any unsolicited phone call you receive.
Additional consumer tips, information, and lists of resources are available at:
www.ftc.gov, or toll free nationwide at (877) 382-4357
www.idtheftcenter.org, for information on your credit history
www.give.org, for additional information about a specific charity