CHICAGO - Ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Attorney General Kwame Raoul is reminding Illinois residents to exercise caution when shopping online. In particular, Raoul is urging shoppers to do research before taking advantage of “buy now, pay later” offers, using services to split the cost of a purchase into several payments, or accepting offers of loans.

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“Black Friday and Cyber Monday are two of the biggest e-commerce days of the year, and it is important that shoppers do not let their pursuit for deals allow them to be vulnerable to hidden fees or scams,” Raoul said. “My office provides advice and resources to help people avoid identity theft and assist those who think their information may have been compromised. I encourage those who need more details to visit my office’s website.”

Some businesses and retailers offer “buy now, pay later” plans that allow shoppers to make a purchase right away, but defer payment over a period of weeks or months, sometimes with the claim of paying zero interest. However, some of these offers include interest and additional fees, which can spike if there is a missed payment.

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Attorney General Raoul recommends that people using “buy now, pay later” services be aware of any interest charges or fees, whether the service will report the consumer’s payment history to credit bureaus, and whether a credit check is done prior to approval for a plan. Read the fine print on the service’s privacy policy to find out what personal information is being collected and how that information will be used. Individuals should also understand the risks in advance, including what happens if they miss a payment.

Additionally, Attorney General Raoul encourages people to consider the following recommendations before shopping online this holiday season:

  • Avoid fake websites. Fraudulent websites may look like the real thing and may even have a similar website address. Double check to ensure you have typed in the right website address. Remember that just because a website is at the top of the search results doesn’t mean it’s the official website. Scammers may use ads and sponsored links to trick you into going to their websites.
  • Read reviews if you are shopping on an unfamiliar website. More focused information can also be found by doing an online search of a company or seller’s name along with the words “scam” or “review.”
  • Be careful when clicking on links that were sent to your phone or email from suspicious or unfamiliar sources: Never give a third-party remote access to your computer or download a company’s software just to make a purchase. These may be “phishing” or “smishing” scams to trick you into going to a fake website or installing a virus on your device.
  • Never give out private information – such as your Social Security number, payment information, usernames or passwords in an email, text message or a pop-up chat box.
  • Be aware of “drop shippers.” Drop shippers don’t own their inventory and only act as an intermediary between the consumer and a manufacturer. Dishonest drop shippers may try to trick you into believing they are the manufacturer, charge you extra fees, or send counterfeit goods or poor-quality goods – if you receive anything at all.
  • Always pay with a credit card. Transactions paid with a credit card generally limit your liability for fraudulent charges. Paying by debit card, prepaid cards, gift cards and cash do not offer the same safeguards. When possible, use services such as Apple or Google Pay, which allow you to pay without providing your actual credit card number. If an actual credit card number is required, visit your credit card App or check with your issuer to see if a temporary one-time-use credit card is available.
  • Be wary if an online retailer or website does not accept credit card payments and requires that you pay by wire transfer, money order, gift card or cryptocurrency.
  • Be extremely careful when sending peer-to-peer payments through apps such as Zelle, PayPal, Venmo and Cash App. Most peer-to-peer apps are designed so you can pay people or businesses you know, not people or businesses you are unfamiliar with. As a result, almost all the consumer protections associated with credit cards do not exist with P2P Apps. Double check the recipient’s name, phone number, email address or profile photo before hitting the send/confirmation button. Avoid sending or receiving money from anyone you don’t know or trust. If you are sending money to someone for the first time, have them send you a “request” before you send the money.
  • Use multifactor authentication or two-step verification when possible.
  • Read the fine print to make sure there aren’t hidden costs or obligations that could sign you up for recurring charges, like a subscription or a membership.
  • Ensure you receive a delivery date. If a seller doesn’t promise a ship time in their ad, they must ship your order within 30 days of receiving your name, address and payment, unless they explain delays and give you the option to cancel and receive a refund.
  • Sign up for free fraud alerts from your bank or credit card.
  • Use different usernames and passwords for all your accounts, keeping the password in a secure place and changing the password every 6 months.
  • Don’t rush. It can be tempting to move quickly to try to score good deals in the frenzy of the holiday sale season. Scammers count on perceived pressure to convince us to do things we otherwise wouldn’t, such as sharing personal information. Taking time to evaluate offers can save you from getting stuck with a payment plan that charges high interest rates or fees, and comparison shopping before making a purchase can help you avoid overpaying for low-quality items.

Attorney General Raoul encourages those who believe they have been victims of a scam to file a complaint on the Attorney General’s website or by calling the Attorney General’s Consumer Fraud Hotlines:

1-800-386-5438 (Chicago)
1-800-243-0618 (Springfield)
1-800-243-0607 (Carbondale)

1-866-310-8398 (Spanish-language hotline)

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