Holiday Scams and How to Avoid Them
With just a few weeks to go until Christmas, it’s easy to get distracted and let your guard down when shopping online and in stores. Unfortunately thieves and scammers count on that and use this time of year to their advantage. Following are some of the most common and costly holiday scams and how to avoid them.
While it’s an issue throughout the year, ID theft happens even more often during the holidays. You’re probably giving out your personal information more often and more freely than you even realize.
To keep your information as safe as possible, only shop on your home or other secure wi-fi network. Avoid using wi-fi networks in cafes, libraries and airports.
You’ll also want to be careful when shopping in-store. Many retailers are now asking for your zip code, phone number and email address at checkout. None of this is necessary to complete a retail transaction. You can politely decline to give this information. Or have it ready on a card, hand it to the cashier and get it back after they’ve finished entering it so that no one can overhear the information.
Fake or Used Gift Cards
Because they continue to grow in popularity, there are now several holiday scams surrounding gift cards. One of the more common ones involves receiving an email or call saying you’ve “won” a free gift card and must send money to cover shipping and handling costs to claim it. Of course, once you send the money, the card never arrives.
Another increasingly common practice is for scammers to copy gift card numbers and pins, then continuously check those numbers online. Once the card is purchased and activated, they immediately use the information to make online purchases, making the card useless to the final recipient. Protect yourself by checking all gift cards you buy for signs of tampering, or better yet, ask for a fresh card that hasn’t been on display.
Our desire to be giving and charitable this time of year can leave us vulnerable to holiday scams. Bogus charities will solicit donations in a number of ways, including through email, text message, phone call and even snail mail. The best way to protect yourself is to only give to established charities that you’ve personally vetted or check charitynavigator.org to verify a charity’s legitimacy. Also, never give donations in cash and always ask for a receipt. Senior citizens can be especially vulnerable to these scams. Be sure to let aging relatives know to be careful, or review their planned giving together before they send the checks.
Bait and Switch
Peddlers of counterfeit items do a booming business during the holidays, as people shop for the most popular, high ticket items like watches, designer handbags and electronics. The rule of thumb here is one you’ve heard before: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. No legitimate retailer is going to be charging far less than the competition for something everyone wants. Beware of online auctions and Craigslist offers promising luxury items for next to nothing. To protect yourself from one of the most common holiday scams, purchase gifts only from retailers you know and trust.