Albany, NY - November 24, 2015 - Governor Cuomo urged New Yorkers to protect themselves from identity theft and beware of scams on Black Friday, Cyber Monday and throughout the entire holiday shopping season.
"This time of giving is unfortunately viewed as a prime opportunity for cyber thieves and scammers to take advantage of unsuspecting shoppers,” said Governor Cuomo. “I encourage all New Yorkers to remain vigilant and exercise caution while shopping this holiday season in order to avoid becoming a victim of these unscrupulous practices.”
Black Friday and Cyber Monday mark the official kick-off for the holiday shopping season. Although these days are meant to be opportunities for nabbing bargains, they are also high season for scammers. Fraudsters will take advantage of the holiday shopping season to scam consumers and steal their money and identity.
New York Secretary of State Cesar A. Perales said: “Identity theft and other kinds of unscrupulous scams are more prevalent this time of year and these tips and guidelines will help make this holiday season less stressful and more rewarding for New Yorkers. We want to make New Yorkers aware of their rights as consumers and provide them with valuable tips so they can take every precaution against scammers who will take the holiday season as an opportunity to cheat them out of their hard-earned money.”
Margaret Miller, New York State Chief Information Officer said: “Today’s technology makes online shopping incredibly convenient, with just a click of a mouse or swipe of a screen. While these technologies make transactions much easier for the consumer, they also make cybercrime much easier for a hacker. New Yorkers should use caution when going online this holiday season, and take advantage of these tips to help protect themselves.”
Ted Potrikus, President and Chief Executive Officer, Retail Council of New York State said: "New York's retailers large and small are ready to serve shoppers from Main Street to the shopping malls to their websites, with great products, prices, and service. Be sure to shop with merchants you trust, hang on to your receipts in case you need to make a return, and by all means, don't hesitate to ask a store employee if you have any questions! We look forward to seeing you in the great stores in every part of New York State!"
According to the Federal Trade Commission, consumers nationwide reported more than $1.7 billion in losses from fraud and identity theft in 2014. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received reports from more than 14,000 New Yorkers in 2014, who reported over $47 million in losses due to cybercrime. In New York State, there were over 3,000 identity theft complaints reported by consumers during last year’s holiday season from November 2014 to January 2015. The Division of Consumer Protection’s Hotline also receives hundreds of calls during the holiday season from consumers asking for assistance on how to avoid becoming a victim of a scam.
Through its Consumer Assistance Unit, the Division receives consumer complaints, attempts to mediate where appropriate and refers complaints to the appropriate federal, state, or local agency authorized by law for appropriate action. Among other issues, the Consumer Assistance Unit mediates and resolves complaints regarding product refunds and returns, credit card disputes, and identity theft mitigation.
To maximize the chances of securing great deals while minimizing the risks of scams and identity theft, consumers should purchase from reputable retailers and engage in safe online behavior. The New York State Division of Consumer Protection and the New York State Office of Information Technology Services offer the following tips:
Do your research.
- Only buy from merchants and websites you know and trust. Do not visit a site by clicking on a link sent in an email, found on someone's blog, or in an advertisement. The website you land on may look just like the real thing, but it might be a well-crafted fake. If you have concerns about the legitimacy or security of a store or website, then it’s best not to take the risk.
- Beware of misleading ads. Make sure you understand the offer and read the fine print. Do not fall for rock bottom bargains unless you make certain they are legitimate by contacting the merchant and asking questions before making a purchase.
- Think twice before clicking on email links or pop-up advertisements. When you receive unsolicited email offers or pop-up ads that appear to be from legitimate stores, be very cautious about their origin. Aside from potentially containing a virus, these ads may be scams that steal your money or sell knock-off products.
- Review the store’s refund, delivery dates and shipping/handling policies. Prior to making any purchase, ask about the store’s policies. Check to see what kind of condition the merchandise must be in to successfully make a return and whether or not the store imposes a restocking fee.
- Be alert for potential charity donation scams. Think before clicking on emails requesting donations. Make a contribution by navigating to the trusted web address of the charity, never through a link in an email.
Protect your personally identifiable information.
- Secure your computer and mobile devices. Keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware software current, along with your firewall. Be cautious about free downloads; free can be costly. Screen savers, e-cards, or other free seasonal downloads can carry viruses.
- Don’t use public Wi-Fi for personal banking or online shopping. Personal information should never be sent through unsecured wireless connections in public places.
- Secure your home Wi-Fi. Make sure you control who has administrative access, and that any users on your network log in with a strong password. Encryption settings should be enabled and strong.
- Secure your purchase. Look for the “https” at the beginning of the URL. The “s” stands for secure and indicates that communication with the webpage is encrypted, thus protecting your information.
- Take precautions with the passwords you use for online accounts. Use different passwords for different online accounts, especially for those accounts tied to your financial information. Create long, complex passwords using upper and lower-case letters, special characters and numbers. A password with at least 10 characters is generally recommended. Consider changing your passwords after the holiday shopping season ends. Be sure to log off a website after completing your online transaction.
- Avoid unsolicited offers. When shopping online, type in the name of the site you are visiting instead of clicking offers in emails or pop-ups since they carry the risk of Identity theft and fraud.
If any email asks for your personal or financial information, it’s most likely a scam.
- Do not respond to unsolicited emails requesting your password, PIN or other sensitive information via email. A legitimate organization will never initiate contact with you via social media or email to request personal or financial information.If the email appears to be from your bank or credit card company, contact them directly.
- Pay with a credit card. When shopping online or in a store, be sure to use a credit card, not a debit card. Credit cards are covered by the Fair Credit Billing Act, giving you greater protection against fraudulent charges, and allowing you to more easily dispute an item on your bill if you don’t receive it. Consider using a separate credit card for online shopping, so only one card is affected if the online retailer or credit card processor gets breached. If you pay by cash, keep your receipts.
- Keep a paper trail. Save records of your online transactions, including the product description, price, conditions, warranties, the online receipt, and the emails you send and receive from the merchant.
- Beware of small charges on your bank statements. Hackers use small charges as a validation test. Any unknown charges could be a sign that a card has been compromised.
Take action if you think you are a cybercrime victim.
- Contact your financial institutions. Immediately notify your bank, credit card company and anywhere else you have accounts to let them know that someone may be using your account fraudulently.
- Reset your passwords. If you've been hacked, there is a chance that passwords to your other accounts have been stolen. Reset your passwords for your critical accounts first, starting with your email account, followed by financial and other critical accounts. It is important to start with email accounts, since password resets for all of your other accounts are typically sent to your email.
- Put a freeze on your credit accounts. Contact all three major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—to request a credit report, and have a fraud alert and a credit freeze placed on your account.
- Contact your local police. File a report so there is an official record of the incident.
For more information or to file a complaint against a business, visit the New York Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection website or contact the Division’s hotline at (800) 697-1220. The Consumer Assistance Hotline is open Monday to Friday, excluding Federal Holidays, 8:30am to 4:30pm.
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For more tips and resources for online safety, including real-time advisories for emerging risks, daily tips and many user-friendly awareness material, visit the Office of Information Technology Services online
Follow the Office of Information Technology Services on Twitter and Facebook