By Lily Bohlke - Public News Service

Consumer advocates are warning Michigan residents to be on the lookout for possible scams this holiday season. They say some people take advantage of this time of year to pose as online stores or charities.

Most reputable websites will tell you they have security protections, and have clear policies about returns or exchanges.

Brenda Price, associate state director for outreach in the Detroit metro area at AARP Michigan, said it is important to go directly to trusted retailer shops online, rather than clinking on links from emails or pop-up ads.

"Scammers look for those bargain hunters with bogus websites and social-media campaigns that impersonate major brands," Price explained. "We call these spoofing sites."

Price said scammers may see an uptick in online shopping, as well as online charity contributions and travel arrangements, as an opportunity. A survey from AARP's Fraud Watch Network found 3 of 4 Americans have experienced some kind of fraud in the past, and nearly 40% received requests from charities that felt fake or fraudulent.

Price pointed out there are additional warning signs, such as huge discounts on hot items, the lack of a privacy policy on the website, or unsolicited emails asking you to click on a link or download an app to arrange a delivery.

She added when buying gift cards, be sure to get them from the front of the store.

"Sometimes you go in stores, they'll be out in the aisles or in different sections," Price observed. "Those can easily be tampered with if they're out of the view of staff personnel at the store. So you want to get a gift card that is very close to the register, it is likely to not have been tampered with."

Price emphasized credit cards often can be safer for online shopping than debit cards, because they do not pull money directly from your bank account. Among those surveyed, 69% said they planned to use their debit card this holiday season.

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