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The Real Holiday Grinch: The Scammer

It’s the holiday season and along with spending time with family and friends and making memories, it’s also the season of the holiday grinch – the scammer.

Every year, thousands of people become victims of holiday scams. When buying gifts or services, it’s not uncommon to look for the best deals and for ways to save money. But if you’re not careful, these so-called “deals” may turn out to be scams, so beware of these popular scams:

E-Card Danger:

It’s nice to receive an e-card but be careful before opening it. Do not open the card or click on any links if the sender’s name isn’t apparent or if you are required to share additional information to get the card. Also, some scammers may hack someone you know, so even if you know the sender, but something looks off about the card, don’t open it, and check with the sender to see if they sent you an e-card.

Fake Charities:

During the holidays, people are usually in a generous mood and want to help out those less fortunate, and that’s just what scammers count on. Beware of any charity solicitations you receive by email, on social media sites, and even by text. If in doubt, do not give to any charity with whom you didn’t start the contact. Also, you can check out charities at give.org before donating.

Free Gift Cards:

While you’re on social media or checking emails, you may see a pop-up ad offering free gift cards. Do not fall for this. They are often just a ploy to get your personal information that can later be used for identity theft.

Grandparent Scams:

Sadly, the elderly are often considered easy prey by scammers. Scams involving them may include them getting a phone call from a grandchild claiming to have been in an accident, been arrested or hospitalized while traveling in another country and needing them to send them money. Do not send any money anywhere until you confirm with a family member whether your grandchild needs help.

Letters From Santa:

There are several trusted and legitimate companies that offer to send your child a personalized letter from Santa. Unfortunately, scammers mimic them to get your personal information. Check with bbb.org to find out which companies are legitimate.

Look-Alike Websites:

If you’re looking for an item at a specific store, but the store sells out of that item, you may find the item online on a website different than the official retailer. It’s easy for a scammer to mimic a real website, and to take your money and leave you without the gift and money to buy it elsewhere.

Mobile Malice:

Downloading a mobile game may seem like a good way to help you pass the time, but be wary to not download the wrong game. Mobile games can steal passwords and other data from your device. Before downloading, always do a quick search to check the validity of the app and read the permissions carefully. You should never have to give permission for the game to send texts or information to third parties.

Must-Have Gift Scams:

This involves the “it” gift of the year. Whatever is in high demand and low supply, websites will pop up offering “it” at an unbelievably low price. Do not fall for this. It’s likely the advertiser doesn’t even have the “it” gift and is just using the offer to gain your personal information.

Old-School Pickpocketing:

Be aware of your surroundings while out and about in crowded malls and shopping centers as you may not notice a “mere” jostle amongst the crowds. For protection, it’s best to wear purses slung across the body and keep wallets in a front pocket or inside a closed jacket. Consider leaving the house with just your ID and a debit or credit card as these cards offer fraud protection and security features that are not available with cash.

Phony Package Delivery Notices:

At this time of year it’s not uncommon for people to receive unexpected packages. Scammers will send you a realistic-looking delivery failure notification in the hope that you’ll follow up and reveal personal information. Before you hand over information on the internet, contact your local post office or delivery service to verify the notification.

Public Wi-Fi:

Scammers will target anyone using public Wi-Fi with pop-ups that request they install a foreign program before connecting to a network. Before you sign on, ask yourself if using public Wi-Fi is worth the risk. If you decide to use public Wi-Fi, you shouldn’t have to install anything, so if you are asked to do so, don’t do it.

Social Media Gift Exchange:

You may have seen this gift exchange idea floating around on social media – send one gift to someone and then you’ll receive x-amount of gifts back. It sounds great, but it’s actually a pyramid scheme, which is illegal.

Temporary Holiday Jobs:

During the holidays, retailers and delivery services often hire extra help, but be wary of “employers” requiring you to share personal information online or pay for a job lead. Apply for the job in person or go to the retailers’ main website to find out who is hiring.

Travel Scams:

When trying to book travel during the holidays, a good bargain may be tempting. Be cautious when booking through online ads, and never wire money to someone you don’t know. Use a trusted travel agency or service.

Unusual Forms of Payments:

If anyone asks you to pay for a purchase using a prepaid debit card, gift card, wire transfer, or a  third party, etc., do not do it. These payments cannot be traced and cannot be undone.

Automated Phone Message Alerting to Delivery Notification

This one happened to me, and it actually gave me the idea for this article. I was expecting a phone call from someone whose phone number I didn’t know, so when I received a seemingly local call from Pascagoula, I answered the phone. However, it was an automated phone call informing me that my Amazon order would be delivered today – in Memphis, no less – and named the numerous high-end electronic items I ordered which totaled over $4,000, and if I had a dispute about the order or had questions, to press “1″ for more information. Of course, I immediately hung up. But, knowing that I do have an Amazon account, I called Amazon who confirmed that I did not have an over $4,000 transaction pending. So, while I knew that this was undoubtedly a scam, I didn’t panic, but for my own peace of mind, I checked it out.

What to do to keep from getting scammed:

Besides being aware of the scams above, there are additional steps you can take to protect yourself from getting scammed.

Practice good cybersecurity activity:

Don’t click any suspicious links or attachments in emails, on websites, or on social media.

Phishing scams and similar crimes get you to click on links and give up personal information like your name, password, and bank account number. In some cases, you may unknowingly download malware to your device.

Be especially wary if a company asks you to update your password or account information. If you’re asked to do that, call the company to confirm whether or not they require you to update your information.

Know who you are buying from or selling to:

Check a website’s URL to make sure it’s legitimate and secure. A site you’re buying from should have “https” in the web address. If it doesn’t, do not enter your information on that site.

If you’re purchasing from a company for the first time, do your research and check reviews.

Verify the legitimacy of a buyer or seller before making a purchase. If you’re using an online marketplace or auction website, check their feedback rating. Be wary of buyers and sellers with mostly unfavorable feedback ratings or no ratings at all.

Avoid sellers who act as authorized dealers or factory representatives of popular items in countries where there would be no such deals.

Be wary of sellers who post an auction or advertisement as if they reside in the U.S., then respond to questions by stating they are out of the country on business, family emergency, or similar reasons.

Avoid buyers who request their purchase be shipped using a certain method to avoid customs or taxes inside another country.

Be careful with how you pay:

Never wire money directly to a seller.

Avoid paying for items with pre-paid gift cards. In these scams, a seller will ask you to send them a gift card number and PIN. Instead of using that gift card for your payment, the scammer will steal the funds and you’ll never receive your item.

Use a credit card when shopping online and check your statement regularly. If you see a suspicious transaction, contact your credit card company to dispute the charge.

Consider using Apple Pay® or Samsung Pay. Tokenization is the single safest way to spend money during the holidays and after. You’ll be immune to skimming and shimming, and if you don’t bring your wallet, no one can steal it. Unfortunately, your phone can be stolen, so be sure you know where it is at all times and keep it password or Touch ID protected.

Don’t leave checks in the mailbox. It’s not hard for thieves to grab stuff out of an unlocked mailbox. Drop outgoing checks into a locked mailbox, take them to the post office, or hand them to your postal carrier. You could even set up bill pay through online banking to minimize the number of checks you write.

Monitor the shipping process:

Always get tracking numbers for items you buy online so you can make sure they have been shipped and can follow the delivery process.

Be suspicious of any credit card purchases where the address of the cardholder does not match the shipping address when you are selling. Always receive the cardholder’s authorization before shipping any products.

After the holidays:

When the holidays are over, check, double-check and even triple-check all of your credit card and bank account statements. If you see anything that concerns you, contact the proper parties immediately.

What to do if you’ve been scammed:

If you suspect you’ve been scammed, don’t panic, but take action immediately.

Call your credit card company or your bank. The sooner they are contacted, the sooner they can protect your accounts and issue new cards.

Dispute any suspicious charges

Contact local law enforcement

Report the scam to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at ic3.gov

 

One thing to be mindful of is that scammers are not always at work during the holidays. They are just as likely to scam you on a sultry summer day as they are during the height of the holidays. To keep ever-vigilant, occasionally check the Federal Trade commission (FTC) Scam Alerts site for a list and description of the latest scams. Don’t let the thought of possibly being scammed ruin your holidays. Instead, take a breath, recognize the dangers, and take reasonable precautions. By staying alert and shopping smart, you can prevent a scammer from taking the cheer out of your holidays.  And, remember – if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

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Written by Mimi Bosarge

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