Unfortunately, the holidays are a popular time of year for scams. More people are making purchases, traveling, donating to charities, and engaging in other activities that thieves and hackers can take advantage of to make money. We’re also busy and distracted and not necessarily paying close attention to what we’re doing. Before you give out personal information, buy something online, or click a link, keep these scams in mind:
Online store scams
You see an ad on social media or get an email from a store and click on it and order the product. It turns out the store is fake and you just handed over your name, address, and credit card information. Alternatively, the amazing deal you found has hidden fees and other charges or you receive counterfeit goods.
In some cases, the email or ad may look like it’s from a company you know. Look carefully at the email address of the sender to make sure it exactly matches the company name. Often, the sender will show some other name, contain gibberish, or look like the company name but with a typo. The email itself may have poor grammar and spelling and messy formatting. Delete the email, and don’t click on any links.
These emails can also be a way for hackers to infect your computer with malware. Independently verify that the URL of a link matches the URL of the company. If you are interested in the product, it’s best to look up the website yourself and go to the site that way.
You’re searching for discount travel or you see an ad or email with a great deal. Either way, you end up on a fake website or the deal isn’t what was advertised. This can happen with airline tickets, hotel and rental car reservations, and even fake Airbnb listings.
Follow the same rules for spotting and avoiding online store scams.
UPS, FedEx, or other delivery service sends you a text or email asking you to click a link. You end up on a fake website that asks for personal information, to pay a fee, or take other action. The link may also infect your computer with malware.
Always check the email sender carefully and look for typos and other peculiar characteristics. It’s best to go to the delivery company’s website on your own without clicking a link and use the tracking information you got when you placed your order.
Always research charities before donating to make sure they are legitimate and how much of your donation goes toward administrative costs. CharityNavigator is a great source for this.
Scammers can also create lookalike charities. As with online store scams, pay attention to the email sender if you get an email from a charity and verify the URL before donating or find the site through a Google search.
Thieves are on the lookout for packages left on front stoops and gift cards and checks in your mailbox. Unfortunately, doorbell and security cameras may not deter thieves.
Track your packages online so you know when deliveries are going to be made and try to make arrangements so they aren’t sitting outside. Encourage relatives to send electronic gift cards by email.
An individual contacts an older adult pretending to be a loved one and asking for money to get out of some kind of trouble. The person wants the money by gift card or wire transfer and asks the grandparent to keep it a secret.
The best protection is to educate yourself and your loved ones about these scams. Also, always verify a phone call, email, or text from the person asking for money by independently contacting them.
Protection from all scams
Sadly, there are many more scams than these, so in general, protect yourself at all times with these steps:
- Pay attention to and investigate the sites you visit before providing personal information.
- Have strong passwords and don’t use public Wi-Fi.
- Be careful about using payment apps. They may not offer the same protection as credit cards in the event of fraud.
- Don’t pay people with gift cards.
- Keep close track of your finances. Set up alerts from your credit card company or bank that let you know when a purchase or transaction has occurred. Check your monthly statements carefully.
- Finally, learn more about avoiding scams and addressing them if you were a victim by going to these and other governmental sites: AARP, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Justice, and the IRS.
Don’t let scammers ruin your holidays. Have fun but also be careful.