‘Tis the season of shopping, giving and gathering together once more. But even though you may be out preparing for and enjoying time spent with your family and friends, scammers never take a holiday.
The Christmas season is prime time for scammers to use your spirit of generosity in their favor and dig into your wallet. However, with a little preparation and vigilance, you can cut down on your risk of becoming victim to their ho-ho-hoaxes.
According to the Better Business Bureau, these are 10 of the most common holiday scams to watch out for:
Look-alike websites: Because many retailers now use chip card readers, fraud in stores is down. As a result, scammers have shifted their efforts to online shopping. Make sure you only shop on secure, legitimate websites. Use a credit (not debit) card only, and look for the https in the address (the extra “s” is for “secure”) and a lock symbol. Also, watch out for web addresses that use the names of well-known brands along with extra words.
Fake shipping notifications: Look out for messages that have attachments or links to sites you don’t recognize, may seem threatening or have misspelled words. Clicking these attachments or links may download malware onto your computer allowing scammers to steal your identity and passwords.
E-cards: Electronic cards are festive and fun, but be careful. If the sender’s name is not apparent or if additional information is required to get the card, it’s most likely a scam.
Letters from Santa: A few trusted companies have started to offer personalized letters from Santa. However, scammers mimic them to get the personal information of children from unsuspecting parents and grandparents. Check with BBB.org to find out which ones are legitimate.
Gift card scam: Gift cards are some of the most popular items on holiday wish lists. Make sure to look at cards before you buy them in order to make sure the packaging hasn’t been tampered with and the card’s PIN (personal identification number) isn’t exposed. Scammers sometimes pull account and PIN numbers from cards and then place them back on racks to be purchased. They can strip the value out of the cards before you even purchase them.
Emergency scam: Be cautious if you receive a call from a friend or family member claiming to have been in an accident, arrested or hospitalized while in another country. Never send them money unless you have confirmed through another family member what they claim is true.
Fake charities: Scammers may try to take advantage of your giving heart during the holidays by sending fake charity solicitations through email, social media and even by text. Confirm that a charity is legitimate at Give.org before donating.
Requests for unusual forms of payment: Be wary of anyone who requests payment using prepaid debit cards, gift cards, wire transfers or third parties. These payments cannot be traced or undone.
Free gifts: Ads or emails offering free gifts and gift cards are just a ploy to get your personal information and steal your identity.
Social media gift exchange: If a “friend” posts a message on Facebook or Instagram inviting you to join a gift exchange promising multiple gifts in return for buying one, don’t be fooled. This is just another pyramid scheme, and it’s illegal.
AARP is also a great resource to learn more about fraud. Click here for more information on how to avoid holiday scams and take a quick quiz to test your ability to spot them. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.