Thwart the Grinches: How to keep you and your money safe while holiday shopping

When you're out shopping for gifts this weekend or surfing the web for Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, be warned: Grinches out there are looking to steal more than your holiday spirit.

Holiday shopping scams cost consumers tens of millions of dollars every year, according to the FBI. And it's not just porch pirates swiping newly delivered packages. Scammers will lure you in with bogus social media ads, worthless gift cards, phony charities and nonexistent vacation rentals, authorities say.

How can you make sure you're not muttering “Bah, humbug” this holiday season?

The Better Bureau Business says don't let the adrenaline rush of scoring a great deal overwhelm your common sense. Slow down and think before making an online purchase. Don't skip the fine print. And make sure that the amazing offer you received in a text or email — especially unexpected texts and emails — comes from a legitimate seller.

The Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and Office of Homeland Security also encourage online shoppers to step up their digital games.

“As we embrace the joy of the holiday season, let's also embrace smart digital practices to protect our financial well-being,” said Sanjay Gupta, the state's chief information officer. “Stay vigilant, choose secure payment options, and regularly monitor your accounts for any unauthorized activity to keep your accounts safe and secure.”

Some more tips from the state:

• Look for “https://” and a padlock symbol in the website URL that appears in your browser's address bar. This means that the website uses secure technology.

• Stick with trusted retailers.

• Create strong passwords with combinations of letters, symbols and numbers, for each retailer, instead of using the same one for everything.

• Be suspicious of deals that seem to be too good to be true.

• When you are out and about, don't use public Wi-Fi networks, especially if they are unsecured. Use your cellular data instead.


It may not be as convenient as home delivery, where you don't even have to put shoes on to go get your stuff, but consider picking up online purchases in a store. Porch pirates have been known to follow delivery drivers and snag items before the purchaser even knows it's arrived.

But that defeats the purpose of online shopping, you say? Then have your items delivered to an Amazon Locker or UPS store. Or choose shipping options that require a signature and set up delivery notifications and package tracking.

Physical safety

Hitting the mall, big boxes and small shops, brick-and-mortar retailers is one way to avoid online scams, but not all ne'er-do-wells.

• Don't overload yourself with packages. Keeping your hands too full with purchases makes you an easy mark for someone looking to commit a snatch-and-grab robbery.

• Keep purses zipped and on your body, and never leave a purse unattended.

• Keep purchases in the trunk or hidden from view in the car.

• Don't park next to vans and large trucks that block your space from the vision of others.

• Write down where you park to avoid wandering the lot with packages.

• Have your keys in hand when leaving the store, and check the interior of your vehicle before getting in.

• And as much as we hate to say this, keep an eye peeled for trouble brewing — be it fellow shoppers on the verge of a fight, or something worse. The FBI offers tips in its “Run. Hide. Fight.” video, on

Feeling charitable?

“Giving Tuesday” is next week. Check a charity's record and reputation on websites such as Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, Guidestar and the Better Business Bureau.

• Don't make donations with a gift card or via wire transfer.

• Don't be rushed into donating. If someone is unwilling to provide information and answer questions, that's a red flag.

• Beware of “sound-alike” organizations that have names similar to responsible, reputable charities.

• Be wary of solicitations that make vague and sentimental claims but give no specifics about how your donation will be used.

• Don't be pressured into giving your credit card number. If you're uncertain, ask to have a mailer or email sent to you and you can give later through a check or the organization's website. Again, a big red flag if the solicitor says they can't send a mailer to you.

Help victim's child

The family of Jacquelyn Fonte Huff, who was killed earlier this week by her Glendale Heights police officer husband, is raising money for her funeral and her 6-year-old son.

Her sister-in-law, Kristin Fonte, started a page, called “Jacquelyn Fonte,” on Tuesday. As of Wednesday afternoon, more than $30,000 had been donated.

Michael Huff shot his wife in the head three times Sunday, then shot himself, in the kitchen of their home near Homer Glen, authorities say.

Jacquelyn had filed for divorce on Oct. 20, according to Will County court records. They had married in 2008. Michael Huff was still living in the house when the shooting occurred, according to Will County Deputy Chief Dan Jungles.

When the shooting happened, their 6-year-old son was on the second floor. Huff's 18-year-old child, from a previous marriage, was in the garage, Jungles said.

Jacquelyn previously had worked for Glendale Heights and most currently was a community events coordinator for Homer Glen.

Michael Huff was an officer with Glendale Heights for 21 years. He had worked as a detective, and in 2022 was promoted to the rank of sergeant.

• Do you have a tip or a comment? Email us at

Cyber Monday is a big day not just for online bargain hunters, but scammers as well. But there are steps you can take to make sure you avoid a ripoff. AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
  Shopping at the mall is one way to avoid online scammers, but there's still reason to exercise caution, experts say. Brian Hill/, 2021
Experts say it's not wise to overload yourself with packages while holiday shopping. It makes you more vulnerable to a snatch-and-grab robbery. AP Photo/ Lynne Sladky
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