Protect yourself with knowledge to avoid holiday scams this year.
Unfortunately we can never let our guard down because thieves are always looking for an opportunity to take advantage. The most important thing you can do to lower your risk of becoming a victim is to become educated and learn to recognize the scams so that they can be avoided.
Avoid Holiday Scams Involving Charity Fraud
Thieves love to take advantage of your generosity and will steal from you in the name of charity in person, by phone, or knocking on your door. There is one thing that you can do that will protect you from all of their schemes. If they contact you, don’t give them a penny. You don’t know if the person contacting you is legitimate or part of a scam, so any money you donate is at risk. However, giving is important so you should personally contact legitimate charities that you know and love and donate to them. This assures you that the money donated is going to those in need.
Avoid Holiday Scams Selling Gift Cards
When purchasing a gift card, be sure to only buy from the stores and not an individual selling them because they’re usually stolen empty gift cards that were never activated at the register. However, when you purchase at the store, buy gift cards that people don’t have access to. Do not buy from the grab and go racks at stores. Thieves can scan the cards on the racks and get the codes on the back of the cards. Then when you pay and get the card activated, they now have a way to use it and spend the money on it.
Avoid Holiday Scams Known as Credit Card Skimming
We’ve all heard about credit card skimming but it’s important to mention because it’s getting worse. People are using their debit cards more than ever and that put them at even higher risk because thieves prefer debit cards over credit cards. Debit cards are the fastest and easiest way to cash. With a credit card they have to purchase merchandise and if they want cash then they have to sell the merchandise to get it. That’s why debit cards are more appealing to thieves.
For consumers using debit cards, the problem is the that money is taken out of their account right away and the thief can clean out the account before you even know what has happened. You’d get the money back but it will take time. If a credit card is used, NO money is taken out of the account. If you check your bill each month, as you should, you can verify the charges and dispute anything that isn’t correct.
To protect yourself, you should never use a debit card to make a purchase. That includes in person and online transactions. If you have to use a debit card because you have no other option, then you should open a separate checking account and only deposit the amount of money you are willing to risk losing. If you become a victim, you should get that money back eventually, but at least only that small amount of money was put at risk and not all of your funds.
Avoid Holiday Scams by Increasing Computer Security
Many people think that they can buy a computer and that the built in security is enough. That is not the case, it is very important that your computer has a security program that protects your computer from viruses and other malicious things. Norton, McAfee, and others are perfect for this but you must also install a program that protects against spyware and malware. For PC’s “Microsoft Security Essentials” would work well and it’s free. Once installed schedule regular scans. It’s also important to update all software when you get notices to do so. Many of these updates are security related and you need them to keep your computer safe.
Avoid Holiday Scams by Avoiding Dangerous Holiday Downloads
Shopping online or simply browsing can bring you many offers such as free screen savers, animations, and other things all loaded with hurtful viruses and malware. Anytime you download something from an unknown source you risk the chance of getting them. It’s not worth it. Only download from sites that you know are legitimate.
Avoid Holiday Scams Rampant on Ebay & Craigslist
The problem with these sites and sites like them is you never know who the seller is on auction sites and so it is very risky to buy from them. During the holidays, scammers are on these sites and are looking to take advantage of you. Be very careful and remember, if it’s too good to be true then it probably is. One piece of advice that Craigslist gave me to prevent 99% of the scams is to only deal with people locally and meet them in person.
Avoid Holiday Scams Attached to E-Cards
We’ve probably all received an e-card and so when you get one you don’t think much about it and you click the link to see it. Although this scam happen anytime during the year, it is especially prevalent during the holidays. The thief loads phony e-cards with links that can include viruses or malware. It may even hijack your e-mail account in order to send out more cards to your database of emails and spread the virus. Before opening the email or clicking on any of the links, contact anyone that sends you a holiday card to verify that they did indeed send it.
Avoid Holiday Scams in Email Phishing
Phishing is another scam that has been going on for a very long time because it continues to works. Do not buy anything offered in an unsolicited email. During the holiday season, you will see many more emails with offers to good to be true, and they are. Some may be legitimate but most others won’t be. So to be safe it is best to just avoid the offer no matter how good it is.
If you get an email from what looks like a legitimate company, even someone you do business with, don’t click any of the links in the email. Instead, open a new browser and type in the legitimate web address of the business that you would like to go to. Many emails that look like legitimate offers from legitimate companies are phishing scams. They are hoping that you click through. When you do it takes you to a website that looks identical to the legitimate business site. The problem is, their site is a fake and used to collect personal information, credit or debit card information, and/or download malware.
Avoid Holiday Scams Involving FedEx/UPS Delivery Notices
This is similar to the missed delivery notice below, but in this case you receive an email appearing to be from the delivery service. Since so many people have their online purchases mailed to them, this email will be considered legitimate. The email will say that your package can’t be delivered and that you’ll need to insure it before they can send it out for delivery. Their hoping you’ll click on the link and provide the requested credit card information to pay for the insurance. When you do, they go shopping with your card. Delivery companies ask the sender if they want the package insured when it’s sent; they don’t require insurance and they especially don’t require it after the fact. However, if you are concerned about a specific package don’t click on any links in the email, instead call the delivery company using a legitimate phone number you’ve looked up and call them directly.
Avoid Holiday Scams Using a Foreign Lottery
Most of us spend a lot of money during the holidays, so wouldn’t it be great to hear that you won the lottery? Thieves are hoping so. Usually they’ll contact you to tell you you’ve won and ask you to pay the processing fees or taxes before getting your money. Understand that legitimate lotteries do not ask their winners to pay up-front fees. In other cases, they may want to mail you a check and ask you to wire a portion of the money back to them. If you send them money before the check has cleared, you’ll find that their check was bad and you’re money gone.
Avoid Holiday Scams Taking Advantage of Hiring Holiday Workers
Many businesses hire extra staff this time of the year which is good news for people looking for work. However, beware of offers for high paying jobs and/or work at home jobs. Usually they ask for personal information before they send you details. If you give them personal information it usually leads to identity theft. Other times they want you to pay for the details. Either way, stay away from it. As usual, if it’s too good to be true then it probably is.
Here’s another scam you may find when you respond to their offer for work and quick cash. When you respond they’ll tell you that they want to send you a check and once you’ve received it they want you to send a portion of the money to the person they’ve instructed you to send it to via wire transfer; the rest of the money you can keep. This is a scam and they’re hoping you’ll send the money before their check clears. If you do, you’ll find that their check bounced and you’ve lost the money you’ve wired.
Avoid Holiday Scams for Missed Delivery Notices
This scam can happen any time of the year but seems to pick up during the holidays because it’s the time of the year when we all expect to receive packages, making this easy to fall prey to. You get a notice on your door saying that an attempt was made to deliver a package to your home and that you need to call the number listed. One of two things can happen if you call the number. You may sit on hold listening to music for a long time as very high “premium line” or international long distance rates are being charged to your phone bill. Or, they may answer the call but ask you to provide many personal details about yourself. They’ll say that this is for verification only but in reality it’s so that they can steal your identity. Never give out any personal information if they contact you or if you were given a phone number by them to contact them. If they reached out to you first, no matter what they say or who they say they are, do not give any personal information. Instead hang up, look for the business phone number from a legitimate source, and then call them back.
Avoid Holiday Scams that Name a Star After You
You need to find a unique gift for someone very special so you decide to pay a company a fee to name a star after them. The company sends you a professional certificate with the name and location of a star that has been named after the person of your choice and they say it’ll even appear in the star registry. It sounds like a great idea but it’s all a lie. Stars are named by the International Astronomical Union and they don’t name stars after the public. According to their website, “such ‘names’ have no formal or official validity what-so-ever and they do not show up in the official catalog (registry) that is kept by the IAU and used by all astronomers.
Avoid Holiday Scams with Online Shopping Sites
Never give any personal information online unless it is a secure site. The websites url should change from “http://www” to “https://www”. The added “s” shows that the page is secure. You may also see a padlock symbol either on the top or bottom of the homepage. If the site is not secure, leave it and do not give them any information.
Avoid Holiday Scams by Avoiding Pickpockets
This is another scam that has been around forever and still continues today. As malls fill up with people, it’s very easy to be taken advantage of by these professionals. Woman need to be very aware of their purses and be sure that they are completely closed and held up against their body under their arm. Men need to move their wallet into their front pant pocket and also be aware of it at all times. Never carry your social security number and only bring the credit card(s) that you plan to use. All other items that are not needed should be taken out. Don’t assume that when someone bumps into you that it’s just an accident, immediately check your wallet, purse, and pockets where anything of value was located. Last, make a photocopy of all of your credit cards and store those copies in a secure location. If your wallet gets stolen you’ll have a copy of the account number and customer service number to report the theft.
Avoid Holiday Scams Trying to Sell Hard to Find Items
What happens when the most popular item sells out this holiday season before you have a chance to buy it? Thieves know you are desperate and once popular items are sold out, they’ll start marketing that they have some available. You think it’s your lucky day but the reality is it’s a scam. To protect yourself, only buy from legitimate sources no matter how bad you want the item.
Avoid Holiday Scams Utilizing Texting – Called Smishing
This is a somewhat new scam that has started because so many of us now use texting. What happens is you get a text from your bank or what looks like another legitimate source saying that there is a problem that you need to clear up. If you call the phone number listed in the text, thieves will try and get you to give them your account number, password, and other personal information. Of course, they’ll tell you it’s simply to verify you are who you say you are. Instead of responding to the text, call the business using a legitimate phone number that you have looked up.
Don’t become a victim this Christmas. Most people make simple mistakes because of a lack of knowledge.
You can use this information to stay one step ahead of the thieves and avoid holiday scams this year.
Michael Gier is a fraud prevention expert and the host of Protect Yourself TV, an internet TV show educating people on the day to day activities that put them at risk. Michael has the inside scoop on how to avoid holiday scams.