National Consumer Protection Week is being held this week to help American consumers learn about their rights in the marketplace and to recognize and report scams, identity theft, and unfair business practices.
Now in its 16th year, hundreds of community groups across the country have been hosting events to promote general consumer education or to highlight a specific issue, such as a shred-a-thon to reduce the risk of identity theft. The topic is also receiving a lot of play on local news outlets, such this first video and this second video.
Here are even more great tips to avoid scams and online fraud:
- Do your homework on an individual or company before doing business or sending payment: look for a physical address, check with the Better Business Bureau, and Google the person to find out whether the company is legitimate or a scam.
- Do not give Social Security, financial, or other personal information to strangers who make contact by phone, Internet, or mail.
- Keep antivirus software up-to-date and be careful when surfing the Internet (especially in an unencrypted WiFi hotspot, in which case a personal VPN is critical to protect your sensitive data).
- Shred all physical copies of important documents when they are no longer needed.
- Be careful what you carry in your wallet. While the U.S. government has made all states take citizens’ Social Security numbers off drivers’ licenses, what other identifying information is in your wallet or purse? Put your Passport or Social Security card away safely; there’s no need to carry either document with you daily.
- Trust instincts; if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Feel free to say “no” when someone asks for your birthdate, Social Security number, or personal details — if it feels unsafe to provide those sensitive details either online, over the phone, or in person, listen to your instincts.
- Learn about — and avoid falling for — phishing scams via email. Avoid responding to special-investment offers or financial-related emails.
- Don’t give out your credit card number online unless the site is secure; look for HTTPS and encrypted websites.
- But when you do want to buy something online (and you’ve verified the website is secure), the use of a credit card is safer than the use of a debit card (it’s simpler to dispute the charges if something goes wrong).
The Federal Trade Commission is also urging consumers to use common-sense and to keep the topic of consumer safety and online security part of their regular routines — not just this week as part of overall National Consumer Protection Week.
“We encourage consumers to participate in their communities,” said Jessica Rich, director of FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. She suggests that consumers check out the following video and related toolkits on identity theft, credit fraud, and related scams.