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Tips to protect holiday purchases and personal information

Heber City has top digital forensics officer in Utah (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) The holiday shopping season starts in a matter of hours. Millions of Americans will be looking for that holiday cheer online - which is a fact well known by crooks, warns Utah Department of Commerce boss Francine Giani.

“While Utahns are savvy when it comes to hunting for bargains in store and online, remember tis’ the season for con artists looking to line their pockets,” she said. “Hot toys in demand can make consumers vulnerable to counterfeit products and fake websites.”

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With so many shopping choices, Daniel O’Bannon, Director of the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, advises that you check out refund and return policies before purchasing.

“As you compare prices and products, take a moment to review the vendors’ return policy to avoid any refund headaches after the holidays have passed,” O’Bannon said.

RELATED: Get Gephardt investigates: Avoid online shopping scams

The Utah Division of Consumer Protection also offers the following tips:

1. Beware of rogue public Wi-Fispots. Fraudsters will set up shop at popular public Wi-Fi locations and promote “free” Wi-Fi connections to entice consumers to connect their devices. Before you connect to any Wi-Fi, make sure the connection is password protected and don’t enter personal or credit card information.

2. Secure your smartphone and tablet devices. Mobile devices are a convenient resource but may also provide fraudsters with access to your personal and account information. Only install apps or programs from known sources, keep an eye on your bill, investigate if your battery runs down quickly and don’t leave your phone unattended. Also, make sure you log off retailers’ websites so your information isn’t vulnerable to cyber thieves.

3. Keep your anti-virus software up-to-date on your mobile devices and home computer. Make sure you have installed the latest firewall and anti-virus software to protect your mobile devices and computers against hacker attacks.

4. Don’t send cash or wire money for payment. Do not wire money via Western Union, Money Gram, Green Dot card or any other wire service for online purchases; you may be handing over your money to scammers, and never get the item you “ordered.” Pay by credit card to protect your purchases.

5. Compare prices, look out for phantom websites. Anyone can create a store online. Confirm the online seller’s physical address and phone number in case you have any problems or questions. If you buying an item from websites such as eBay or Etsy, be sure to use a trusted payment service or your credit card to protect your funds if you need to file a dispute with the seller.

6. Avoid counterfeit products. Carefully examine the products you want to buy for signs of missing information (manufacturing information, warranty, product codes, etc.), broken or missing safety seals, different or incomplete packaging, and subtle or obvious changes to a company logo.

7. Appy holidays: For safe online shopping, make sure your apps are downloaded from a trusted source, such as the Android Market, Apple App Store or the Amazon App Store. When you download the app, it will ask for various "permissions." Be sure to read through them and note whether they make sense... for example, does a shopping app need access to your contact list? Another way to check on the safety of apps is to read through the feedback in the comments section of the market and choose apps with a high rating.

8. Enter financial information only on secure sites. Do not email financial information, like your credit card or checking account number. If you initiate a purchase online, look for indicators that the site is secure. Although no indicator is foolproof, look for a lock icon on the browsers status bar, or a URL address that includes an “s” after http.

9. Keep a paper trail in a file folder. Print and save records of all your online transactions, including the product description, price, online receipt, and emails in case you need to return a gift after the holidays.

10. Before you purchase, review the refund policy and delivery rates. Look to see if you can return a product for a full refund before you complete the transaction. Check out who pays for the cost of shipping a returned item and if the company charges a “restocking” fee back to the consumer.

11. Consider coupons:Some companies offer discounts via email, and some websites collect and list codes for free shipping and other discounts. Search for the store with terms like "discount," "coupon" or "free shipping."

12. Read retailer and product reviews. Reviews from other people, experts, and columnists can give you an idea of how a product performs. But don't put all of your trust in one review. A brand's reputation for quality and good customer service can really pay off.

For more information on how to protect yourself from scams or to file a complaint, log on to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection website at: www.consumerprotection.utah.gov

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