Buyer Beware Preventing fraud when shopping this fall

As back-to-school time slowly segues into the holiday season, parents will be spending money on a variety of purchases. With busy fall schedules and more to buy, it’s easy not to notice money missing from a bank account or when an unsanctioned purchase winds up on a credit card statement. It’s easier than some parents think to become a victim of fraud.

But there are a number of steps parents can take to make their purchases safer, says Matt Calhoun, M&T Bank’s market manager for the Baltimore area. “Online purchasing has become way more popular in recent [years],” he says. “There are a lot of things customers can do that they don’t think about.”

First, use reputable anti-virus software. Make sure it is current with updates, and run a quick virus scan before doing any purchasing online, he says. Browsers also should be kept up to date, because they feature built-in security functions to protect shoppers from unsafe sites and viruses.

When getting ready to purchase an item online, shoppers should make sure there is a padlock icon next to the Web address before entering sensitive data, Calhoun says. The padlock denotes the site is secure for purchases. Of course, customers should not use public Wi-Fi services to do shopping.

“We recommend that our customers dedicate one device to do shopping, so they use their own computer or their own device,” he says. “That way they are only inputing sensitive credit card or shipping information into one device and not using public computers or other people’s devices to shop online.”

Calhoun also recommends keeping a record of purchases to make sure the transactions coming through are legitimate. “We offer a lot of alerts and a lot of tools that customers can take advantage of on their accounts if balances get below a certain point or if transactions over a certain amount are made,” he says.

“An alert or a text message can be sent right to you to let you know, ‘Hey something seems off in the account. You might want to check it out’.”

Spend any time online, and it’s easy to see a host of advertisements that pop up with links to lure shoppers. Be wary, Calhoun says. Anyone unsure of a link should go directly to a brand’s website and do their shopping there.

As we approach the busiest time of the retail year, staying alert is key. When buying an item in person, Calhoun warns that shoppers should not leave their personal items unattended. It is as important as it is obvious. So, too, is making sure no one is watching when entering PIN numbers into terminals.

Although it may add an extra step, shred all unneeded credit card receipts or anything that has personal information on it before discarding. People should also periodically look at checking account balances for transactions.

“Now it is really easy to check with mobile banking, online banking, periodic statements to make sure transactions coming through the account are legitimate transactions and no one has been able to penetrate checking accounts or credit cards,” Calhoun says. “If things look suspicious, or it looks like there is an issue in the account, time is of the essence. Contact your local branch or call center. Get that [information] to the financial institution as soon as possible, so it can start to resolve and limit the amount of damage done with identity theft.”

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