BOISE, Idaho -- The online dash for last-minute gifts is on with shipping deadlines down to the wire, and identity thieves and online scammers banking on shoppers being careless. The seemingly "perfect" gift purchase may be hiding a nightmare by giving thieves access to a shopper's credit information, credit card numbers and bank accounts.
AARP Idaho is warning consumers to be careful as they wrap up holiday shopping by releasing a list of simple tips to help protect shoppers from becoming the next victim of I.D. theft or an online scam.
To help protect consumers this holiday season, AARP is releasing the following list of "14 Tips to Safer Holiday Shopping:"
1. Don't give out your credit card number over the phone, through the mail or over the Internet until you can confirm that you're dealing with a legitimate business.
2. When you click through to a website, carefully read the domain name, the Internet address, that appears at the top of your browser. Beware of sites whose name has even the slightest change from a legitimate online retailer's -- extra words or letters, misspellings, and anything but the usual .com or .org ending.
3. Make sure that addresses of ordering pages always begin with "https://" instead of "http://." The "s" means it is secure.
4. Know who you're dealing with and what you're buying: in other words, confirm the online seller's address and phone number before proceeding with the purchase.
5. Avoid websites that don't provide a physical address you can verify by looking up the company on the Internet, or a phone number. Scam sites often allow only for e-mail correspondence. If a phone number is listed, call it to ensure it's a number with a live operator.
6. Pay close attention to disclosures at the bottom of the page. Most legitimate online retailers have a "Contact Us" page with a phone number and physical address, and a "Terms and Conditions" link detailing return policies and such. Many scammers' websites may lack these pages or have them but don't provide all the information you need to know.
7. Make sure it's a safe deal: Find out if you can return the items for a full refund, and who pays the shipping costs if you return it.
8. Make copies of every online transaction: Print them and store them in a safe place. It's very important that you keep a paper trail.
9. Do not e-mail your financial information, especially credit card numbers, checking account numbers and Social Security numbers.
10. Watch for "scammer grammar," misspellings and grammatical errors of the websites, ads and e-mail of scammers.
11. Reject requests for wire transfer payment -- especially if it's sent overseas. Legitimate online retailers accept credit cards, which offer you more protection than debit transactions if you need to dispute payment.
12. Beware of "act now" offers that tell you a sob story -- these tactics are often bait to empty your wallet; the items typically don't exist.
13. Research the prices. Similar items typically fall into a general price range. If one being offered to you falls well below that range, ask yourself why. The usual answer: Scammers use low prices to lure consumers into a bogus bargain.
14. Be on guard at online auctions. If you lost the winning bid on eBay or another auction website, don't be taken in by follow-up e-mails offering the same deal. Scammers often cruise online auction sites to prey on losing bidders and direct them away from secure buying environments.