The Montana Department of Justice reminds the public to keep an eye out for online shopping scams, identity theft attempts, and false charity solicitations during the upcoming holiday season. 

Spokeswoman Anastasia Burton offered important tips for consumers and for those who want to donate to charitable organizations over the holidays.

“When you’re asked to donate, give wisely,” Burton said.  “Ask questions and donate only when you’re satisfied that your money will be used in ways you consider appropriate.  Be wary of callers who use high pressure tactics or those who promise you sweepstakes winnings in exchange for your contribution.”

The Office of Consumer Protection at the Montana Department of Justice recommends donors keep the following in mind:

Ask how much of your contribution will go to the charity for its charitable purposes.

Ask solicitors if they are paid fund-raisers. If the solicitors are paid, a portion of your contribution will pay their salary.

Ask solicitors to provide you with written documentation indicating that your donation will be tax deductible.

Don’t give your credit card number to a telephone solicitor or in response to any unsolicited phone call you receive. Pay by check instead. Your cancelled check will help you for tax record purposes. Use the full, official name of the charity on your check.

When it comes to holiday shopping for gifts online, Burton offered helpful suggestions.

“Never use unsecured wireless networks to make an online purchase,” Burton said.  “Be careful of emails requesting information. Scammers may attempt to gather information by sending emails requesting that you confirm purchases or account information.  Legitimate businesses will not solicit this type of information through email.”

Consumers should also be aware that under Montana law, gift cards and gift certificates from an individual merchant do not expire.  “Whether you’re buying gift cards this holiday season, or receive them as gifts, remember that they don’t have to be used right away, even if there’s an expiration date printed on them,” Burton said.

Gift cards that can be used with multiple sellers of goods or services, like those from a Chamber of Commerce or shopping center, or prepaid credit cards are not considered gift certificates in Montana. Additionally, under federal laws, cards usable with multiple merchants and prepaid credit cards are valid for at least five years from the date the card is purchased.  Funds added to a prepaid card must also be good for five years.

Montana law also allows gift cards or gift certificates that have less than $5 remaining on them, but were originally valued at over $5, to be redeemed for cash.