November 20, 2012: Traditionally “Black Friday” marked the beginning of the hectic holiday shopping season, this year a large number of stores are opening on Thanksgiving Day; and with the increased hours comes increased safety concerns. The District Attorney’s Office along with the Philadelphia Police Department wants to remind everyone while it’s a busy time of the year for bargain hunters it’s also the perfect time for criminals to pounce unsuspecting shoppers.
“There is always somebody looking to separate you from your money,” said District Attorney Seth Williams. “The best course of action is prevention. Many thieves choose their victims because the thieves see an opportunity. If you take away the opportunity, chances are you won’t become a victim. The last thing that anyone needs during these tough economic times is to lose their hard earned money because of a criminal.”
With so many stores now opening on Thanksgiving there are new concerns about the physical safety of shoppers, as well as retail employees. Crowd related injuries during holiday sales events have increased over the past few years. In 2010 several people were trampled in Buffalo, NY during a “Black Friday” sale at a Target store, and in 2008 a Walmart employee died during the opening of a “Black Friday” sale in Long Island, NY. As a result of the increase in pre-“Black Friday” events OSHA has issued a new set of safety guidelines for retailers which can be found on OSHA’s website: www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/Crowd_Control.
There are several new scams this year that the District Attorney’s Office and the Police Department are monitoring:
New Scams of 2012
- Used gift cards: Look up reviews for any 3rd-party seller offering used gift cards for sale. The FBI warns cards reported as stolen can later be disabled, leaving you with a worthless piece of plastic.
- “One day only” bargain e-mails: If you receive any unsolicited Black Friday e-mail, don’t click the links, and don’t give them your credit card number. It’s most likely part of some kind of phishing scam.
- Fake auctions / classified ads: Just like with the used gift cards, make sure the seller is legit by doing a Google search of their name, username, e-mail address, or anything that might point to something suspicious.
- Steeply discounted electronics stores: No online store is going to sell an iPad for $10. You won’t find new digital cameras for $5. There are dozens of “fake” online electronics stores that don’t even have an inventory, and they won’t ship you anything you order. They’re only out to get your credit card number.
- Parking lot bait and switch: Don’t buy electronics from strangers that approach you in a parking lot. It’s always a scam. Always. Often someone will approach you with some wild story about how they need to sell “this $1,000 laptop” or “these $1,000 speakers” fast. The price is usually only $100 to $200, but when you’re back home with the box you’ll find they switched it on you and there’s nothing inside. Some crooks are so sophisticated, they’ve figured out how to re-wrap packages in plastic. So what looks like an unopened iPad is actually a box with some notepads inside to weight it down.
Debit or Credit
- Credit cards. Under federal law, if someone steals your credit card you’re only responsible to pay the first $50 of unauthorized charges. And if you notify the issuer before the thief makes any charges, you may not be out anything. You’re also free from liability if unauthorized purchases occur when the card is not physically present, for example if your credit card number is stolen.
Zero-liability policies, like those offered by Visa and MasterCard, add a second layer of protection. Under these programs you won’t pay anything if someone fraudulently uses your credit card online or off.
- Debit cards. The rules are similar for debit cards, but there are a few restrictions. For example, your liability under federal law is limited to $50, but only if you notify the issuer within two business days of discovering the card’s loss or theft. Your liability could jump to $500 if you put it off. And even this cap is lifted if you wait more than 60 calendar days from the time your bank statement is mailed.
Federal protections are a bit more generous if a thief just steals your debit card number (and not the actual car), but you still have 60 days after receiving your bank statement to report any unauthorized transactions.
Places NOT to use your debit card
- Online– Don’t use the debit card online, if you have problems with a purchase or the card number gets hijacked, you are vulnerable because it is linked to a bank account. Most banks have voluntary policies that set their own customers’ liability with debit cards at $0, but the protections don’t relieve consumers of hassle of waiting for the stolen money to be credited back to their accounts.
- Big-ticket items– With a big ticket item, a credit card is safer because credit card companies offer dispute rights if something goes wrong with the merchandise or the purchase. In addition, some cards will also offer extended warrantees. And in some situations, like buying electronics, some credit cards also offer additional insurance to cover the item.
- Restaurants-Restaurants are one of the few places where you have to let cards leave your sight in order to use them. This can always be problematic if an employee is unscrupulous. Also some establishments will approve the card for more than your purchase amount because, presumably, you intend to leave a tip. So the amount of money frozen for the transaction could be quite a bit more than the amount of your tab. And it could be a few days before you get the cash back in your account.
- Gas stations – Some gas stations will place holds on debit card transactions to cover the purchase. That means that even though you only bought $10 in gas, you could have a temporary bank hold for $50 to $100.
- Checkouts or ATMs that look ‘off’– Criminals are getting better with skimmers and planting them in more places you’d never suspect — like ATM machines on bank property or supermarket checkouts. Take a good look at the machine before using it. Does the machine fit together well or does something look off, different or like it doesn’t quite belong? Make sure it doesn’t look like it’s been tampered with.