Smart Shopping Tips for the Holidays

November 17, 2009

During the busy shopping season, consumers like to use debit and credit cards when shopping. However, scammers often see this as a great opportunity for fraud, which hurts the trust we have in everything from shopping in-person to buying online.

“Most of the time, the only way we are aware of debit card and credit card fraud is after it happens,” says Lynda Pasacreta, BBB President and CEO. “You get a call stating that your credit card has been compromised and you do not have a clue why it happened. We want to encourage consumers to be vigilant against fraud this holiday season.”

According to the Canadian Bankers Association, Canada ranks second in the world when it comes to debit card usage. In 2008, Interac reported a total dollar loss for cardholders to be approximately $104 million with a total of 148,000 ATM card holder victims. As for credit card related frauds, Canadian Bankers Association statistics show losses of $407 million.

To protect yourself against debit and credit card frauds, Better Business Bureau would like to offer the following advice this holiday season:

If you are shopping at a retailer in-person…

Think twice about your habits. Often we see convenience as the key factor in why we use debit and credit card for purchase. However, you may want to consider only using ATMs at bank branches, not at convenience stores or delis, since bank security cameras can offer evidence that fraudulent withdrawals with your debit card were not made by you.

Protect your PIN. Use your hand or body to shield your PIN when you are making transactions at a bank machine or a point-of-sale terminal. Cover as much as possible since scammers use cameras to capture PIN codes.

Look for signs of a tampered PIN pad. Check if the PIN pad has been tampered with before handing over your debit card. Look for the absence of a serial number, raised screws on the back, broken seals or signs of wear on the bottom panel could indicate the pad has been doctored.

Keep an eye on your card. Never let your credit or debit card out of your sight when you make a transaction.

Check your statements. Check your bank and credit card statement often, daily if possible, for any illegal activity. Call the card provider or institution at once if you are suspicious about anything in your account.

If you are shopping online…

Do not click pop-up ads. These ads show up on e-commerce sites after you've made a purchase with your debit card. The pop-up promises cash-back rewards once you click "Yes" on the ad. But you may not realize that you're actually agreeing to automatically sign up for a company's online membership service. And unless you cancel, your card will get charged every month, indefinitely.

Don’t fall for phishing. You click on a link in an e-mail purportedly from your bank and end up at a Web site where you're asked to enter and "verify" your debit card number or Social Security number. This website spoofing is better known as “phishing.” Your bank would not contact you by email to verify information, so do not fall for the phishing trap.

Confirm your online purchase is secure. Shoppers should always look in the address box for the “s” in https:// and in the lower-right corner for the “lock” symbol before paying. If there are any doubts about a site, BBB recommends right-clicking anywhere on the page and select “Properties.” This will let you see the real URL (Web site address) and the dialog box will reveal if the site is not encrypted.

If you find any unauthorized transactions…

Let your financial institution know. Notify your financial institution's branch or telephone banking call centre immediately and make sure you are able to tell the bank the amount and date of the fraudulent transaction. The bank may be able to explain the transaction and, if it is fraudulent, will be able to tell you what to do next. Keep all of the documents that provide evidence of the fraud. Record the name of the person you spoke to at the bank, as well as the date and time you called.

Report the loss to credit-reporting agencies. TransUnion (, Equifax ( are the key credit bureaus who can flag, or place an alert on an account for fraudulent activity, which then requires that they contact the cardholder before any new lines of credit are opened. Consumers can also ask to have an account frozen, which means their credit history can’t be reviewed by lenders and prevents new lines of credit from being opened. But, keep in mind, it may take several days to unfreeze accounts.

Report it to police. Contact your local police’s non-emergency number and record the police report number. You should also keep a log of transactions to help you figure out where the fraud could have occurred.

BBB wishes you a safe holiday season, with a reminder to trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, or seems too good to be true, then it probably is.