Community Voices

Crime Watch: Plan your online shopping carefully

Gonzalez Caldwell

The shopping season has started and many are going to use the Internet to save time and money. So I thought I would give you tips that will hopefully keep you from getting a migraine down the road. Some of the below recommendations I have used in past columns and are worth repeating.

▪ Plan ahead. Having a predetermined list of gifts you intend to buy helps minimize confusion, especially if you plan to make multiple purchases through several websites. Shop safely online by using common sense. A golden rule of online shopping is that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is and you should avoid it, so shop with retailers that you trust. If you aren’t familiar with an online retailer, look for privacy and security seals; they indicate the company’s security and privacy measures have been verified.

▪ Know the retailer’s return and exchange policies. Return policies vary, so knowing ahead of time whether you will have to ship back returns or exchanges or if you can return them to the company store in your area will help in the long run. Also, be sure to find out who covers the cost of shipping if you want to return or exchange an item.

▪ Read the fine print. Retailers list important information such as privacy policies, warranty information, item descriptions, terms of agreement and company information on their websites. Much of this information is very useful but is displayed in smaller print, so get the magnifying glass!

▪ Check it twice before confirming a purchase. Before you complete an online purchase, double-check the billing and credit card information, shipping address and total cost of the order. This will eliminate any potential panic after you’ve hit the “confirm” or “submit” button. And remember not to click “submit” twice.

▪ Start a file folder. First, print and save all confirmations of your purchases. This will help in many ways, from returning or exchanging items, to verifying credit card or bank statements. As always, pay attention and remember that criminals are out there just waiting for you to make a mistake.

Along these same issues the FBI is reminding people this holiday season that cyber criminals continue to aggressively seek ways to steal money and personal information. Scammers are using several techniques to fool potential victims including sending unsolicited e-mails that contain attachments such as electronic greeting cards containing malware (malicious software), setting up spoofing websites that look like legitimate commercial sites, and unleashing phishing and vishing attacks where individuals receive e-mails asking for personal data. So it’s important not to open anything that looks suspicious. Use that “delete” key immediately.

These cyber scammers will do whatever they can to steal your money and personal information this holiday season and are trying many different ways to commit these crimes according to the FBI.

For more information on e-scams, please visit the FBI’s webpage . You also should visit the National Crime Prevention Council for more tips on holiday shopping at

Until next week, be safe and be smart online!

Carmen Caldwell is executive director of Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade. Send feedback and news for this column to, or call her at 305-470-1670.