MADISON, Wis. (11/23/11)--Black Friday is traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year. More recently, the Monday following Thanksgiving has been adopted as Cyber Monday, endorsed by the e-commerce industry as a day of sales and promotions without interfering with the traditional way to shop.
Because credit unions process and store transactions for their members, they are among the first places consumers turn to when they suspect fraudulent activity. As such, credit unions are in an ideal position to provide their members advice on avoiding fraud and how to shop safely.
The National Foundation for Credit Counseling offers five steps credit unions can share with their members before they hit the stores Friday:
Beware of special credit card offers. Issuers are tempting consumers by offering incentives such as no-interest balance transfers, extra perks by meeting certain spending levels, and increased cash back in specified categories. However, no deal is a good deal if the consumers can't afford it. Responsible shoppers will commit to spending no more than what they can repay in full when the bill arrives.
Review all existing debt obligations. Consumers should review loans and credit card balances before they head to the stores, so they know what they are already committed to repay. This reality check may put a temporary damper on the holiday mood, but it's better than digging a deeper financial hole.
Create a plan. Consumers should know what they are shopping for, and, most critically, what they plan to spend.
Find the best deals at home. Shoppers should compare prices online before heading out to stores. Be aware of time restrictions. Some prices may apply only during certain times throughout the day. Once the actual shopping begins, going directly to the store that has the item at a good price will save time, gas, money and frustration.
Limit spending to as few cards as possible. Spreading purchases across multiple cards can trick shoppers into overspending. Holiday shoppers should designate one card for holiday spending, and remove all others from their wallets. This will not only help shoppers stay within their budgets, it will also lessen the damage in case of loss or theft.
For consumers shopping online this holiday season, credit unions can offer their members these tips from the Internet Crime Complaint Center to avoid being victims of cyberfraud:
- Do not respond to unsolicited (spam) e-mail
- Do not click on links contained within an unsolicited e-mail.
- Be cautious of e-mail claiming to contain pictures in attached files, because the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders. Always run a virus scan on attachment before opening.
- Avoid filling out forms contained in e-mail messages that ask for personal information.
- Log on directly to the official website for the business identified in the e-mail, instead of "linking" to it from an unsolicited e-mail. If the e-mail appears to be from the consumer's financial institution, credit card issuer, or other company he or she deal with frequently, statements or official correspondence from the business will provide the proper contact information.
- Contact the actual business that supposedly sent the e-mail to verify that the e-mail is genuine.
- If the member is requested to act quickly or there is an "emergency," it may be a scam. Fraudsters create a sense of urgency to get consumers to act impulsively.
- If the member receives a request for personal information from a business or financial institution, always look up the main contact information for the requesting company on an independent source (phone book, trusted Internet directory or legitimate billing statement) and use that contact information to verify the legitimacy of the request.
- If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.