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(WWJ) – In metro Detroit and beyond, authorities say scammers and crooks are looking to prey on unschooled holiday shoppers.

With that in mind, Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard wants to remind the public of important safety precautions to practice this season. The sheriff says awareness of shopping or charity scams  whether online, through the mail, or in person, and knowing what to look out for, can help prevent citizens from becoming a victim.

The following tips were provided by the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office:

Online Shopping

When shopping online, make sure the website/online retailer you are purchasing from is reputable. Fake websites are prevalent, so do some research before making a purchase if you are unfamiliar with a particular site or retailer. Enter the name of the website address or business into a search engine, along with the word “scam” or “fraud” and see what comes up. Some comparison shopping sites like Shopping.com, Pricegrabber.com, or Nextag.com have reviews and ratings for certain retailers so those sites would be worth checking as well. Fake sellers might also send you emails or place online ads, so be cautious before making a purchase. Even if it looks legitimate, it may not be. Make sure if you are ordering online that you are doing so on a secure server. Secure servers web addresses begin with “https” rather than “http”.

“While the internet has opened up a world of great opportunities for consumers, it can also be a breeding ground for scam artists and unscrupulous persons looking to dupe honest people out of their hard earned dollars,” said Sheriff Bouchard. “If you suspect you are being scammed, there is a very good chance you are. Trust your instincts and report suspicious behavior to your local authorities.”

Shopping in Town/At the Malls

When shopping at your local retailers, make sure you park in an area that is well lit if you plan on being there in the evening hours. Don’t leave any packages in plain view in your vehicle and create a temptation for criminals wishing to steal your holiday packages. Lock them in your trunk where no one will be able to see them. Don’t overload yourself by carrying too many packages, preventing you from having your car keys handy.

While shopping, be careful in crowds, as simple pickpocketing or purse-snatching is still a common practice. Keep your distance from others, and be careful of people who may try to bump into or jostle you in an attempt to lift your wallet or snatch your purse. If you put your purse in a shopping cart, never leave it unattended, even for a moment. When paying at the cash register, check your receipts and your change to make sure you aren’t short-changed or overcharged, either intentionally or by accident.

Mail Order Deliveries

Many people ordering online or via phone or catalog order have their packages delivered to their homes through the mail, or by Fed Ex, UPS, or another delivery service. If the mail service provides a tracking number for your package, try to track it and be home when the delivery arrives, or if you know you will not be present, leave a note for the delivery person to leave the package in a place hidden from plain view of passersby, not on the front porch for criminals to see.

Also, during the holiday season, it’s not unusual to get a notice about an attempted package delivery. Sadly, some of these may be scams, asking you to call a number to coordinate a delivery time. Be cautious if you receive this type of notice and are not expecting it. The number you call might result in you being charged while you wait on hold music. Or, you might be asked to provide some type of personal information, which could be a ploy to steal your money or your identity. Or they might be trying to get information of when you will NOT be home so they can break in. If you are given a phone number, look it up first before dialing. Just doing a quick Google search on the number might turn up some information about a scam, or that it’s truly a number for a reputable service like FedEx or UPS.

Holiday Charity Scams

The holidays are a ripe time for scammers out trying to take advantage of people’s generosity. Give cautiously and always check out a charity’s legitimacy before giving if you are unfamiliar with the charity. Fake charities will frequently set up a legitimate looking logo or business card, or name themselves something similar to a real charity, making them more difficult to identify as scammers. They may set up at a mall, call you at home, email you, or come to your door with small children in tow and a sad story. Don’t donate to a charity until you are sure they are reputable. Get the organization’s name and look it up online. Check out Charity Navigator, GuideStar, or GiveWell. Also, the Better Business Bureau’s website offers information on national charities on their website at http://www.give.org.

Once you have done your research, consider donating to the charity directly, rather than giving money to a person claiming to represent it. Writing a check to a charity, rather than giving cash, will help you document your donation for your records, and for your tax return. Also, ask what percentage of the donation goes directly to the cause. Legitimate charities are used to this question and know the answer. Get a receipt from the charity with their name on it. And finally, be wary of charities claiming to be raising funds for local police or firefighters….always check with them first!

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