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Common Scams to Watch Out for This Holiday Season

November 16, 2020

Holiday shopping will soon be in full force, and scammers will be busy – on the internet, at the mall, at the cash register, and even at your front door.

We want you to have a great holiday season, and that's hard to do when you've fallen victim to a scam. According to scambusters.org and Consumer Reports, here are key areas you're likely to encounter crooks:

Bogus Retail Websites

This involves setting up fake websites offering practically anything you could want – at unbelievably low prices. The website sales page looks professional, often featuring bogus customer testimonials and logos implying top-line security. Sometimes scammers even create copycat websites to look like popular sites such as Amazon, Target, or Walmart. Scammers will take your money for merchandise they’ll never send and may use your credit card number and personal data for identity theft.

  • How to avoid it: Don't trust a site or name you don't know – read reviews from Google or Yelp instead of taking the site at their word. Don't fall for prices that seem too good to be true – they usually are. Be sure to check the web address of sites you visit and be alert for misspellings on email and web addresses. Hover your cursor over email senders’ web addresses to be sure they lead to the right place before clicking.

“Seasonal Hire” Scams

Many retailers and manufacturers need to hire extra staff for the holiday rush. Since many of us are hard-pressed for cash, we're eager to find seasonal jobs. Knowing this, spammers send emails promising non-existent jobs for which you'll need to pay an upfront fee for the job. You may see similar ads in newspaper classifieds and even flyers posted around town. Even if the job exists, you may be conned into working for nothing with the promise of a generous payment at the end, which never comes.

  • How to avoid it: Never pay for a job. Even legitimate agencies that earn their money by finding work earn their fees from employers – not employees. Be wary if it's a "work now, get paid later" job, and check the employer's credentials.

Delivery & Shipping Scams

Fraudsters depend on the hustle and bustle of the holiday season and will even set their sights on the mail this time of year. These scams can involve an official-looking notice sent to you that claims a package-delivery attempt was made but you must call the number to receive it. After calling, you’re asked to provide personal information such as a credit card or Social Security number to get the package delivered. Or, perhaps you receive an email claiming there’s a problem delivering a package – but when you click on the link, you’re directed to a site that asks to confirm personal information. These emails often mimic graphics of UPS, FedEx or the U.S. Postal Service.

  • How to avoid it: If you're concerned that there really is a delivery being held for you, call the company at publicly listed phone number found on Google or the company's official website. You can also stop in at the local branch.

Gift Card Fraud

You get a gift card you’ll never use and think, “I could just sell this.” But be careful who you’re selling to. Scammers have various ways of attempting to steal gift card information, including doing a three-way “balance check,” in which they listen on the phone while you confirm the balance. At the same time, they’re capturing the sound of your keystrokes to determine your log-in information, thus having the ability to steal your gift card funds. On the other side, scammers will often sell fake or used gift cards that otherwise look legitimate.

  • How to avoid it: Only buy from and sell to trusted individuals or use a trusted gift card marketplace. Beware of those offering to pay 100% of your card’s value.

Fake Charities

Holidays are the perfect time for scammers to tug on our heartstrings – most likely when they shake a collection box in front of you as you shop, show up at your front door with a catalog, or give you a call and ask for your credit card number. They may fool you by wearing seasonal costumes, donning uniforms or badges, or carrying other fake authorization. Often, scammers use kids to convince you they're the real deal.

  • How to avoid it: If you don't have time to check out how genuine the collector is, simply don't give. You can always go back later or find them online to donate after confirming the charity's legitimacy. Does holiday shopping have you wanting to spread cheer right away? The Salvation Army bell ringers and other collectors actually inside stores are a safer bet, and you can always ask a store employee for confirmation.

Pickpocketing

Pickpockets are still active in our largely digital world, and crowds mean a big payday for them. If they steal your wallet, they'll have your cash, credit cards, and personal info that could lead to identity theft. With an “accidental” bump or distraction from an accomplice, they can swipe your wallet from your pocket or purse in seconds. They'll often take any accessible gift from your shopping bags, too.

  • How to avoid it: Keep your wallet in a closed purse or a pocket with your hand on it. Leave non-essential identifying information and spare credit cards at home. Return purchases to your car frequently and lock them out of sight in the trunk.

Holiday Scams at the Cash Register

At the cash register, beware of being short-changed – either intentionally or unintentionally. Both are easy to do in the hectic atmosphere at the cash register this time of year.

  • How to avoid it: Have a basic idea of the total cost before you reach the register and, if you don’t have the correct money, know what size bill you'll use and how much change to expect. Don't leave the register until you've checked your change and receipt.


Have a happy and safe holiday season!


This content is for informational purposes only. Readers should under no circumstances rely upon this information as a substitute for their own research or for obtaining specific advice from their own counsel.