Scammers are ready and waiting to take advantage of the upcoming shopping season as much as you are. Stay alert and don’t get caught by costly scams that ruin your holidays!
‘Tis the season to be wary of those “too good to be true” cons and insidious schemes that often take a new twist every season. It’s not like you can predict when it will happen or the type of scam you encounter, but you’ll want to take note of some recent ones:
Watch for these scary scams…
- Payment by gift card scam – Either by email or in person, a victim is asked to pay with a gift card and give the PIN number on the gift card to the scammer. The most popular request is for iTunes cards. According to the FTC, this scam has increased 270% since 2015.
- Gift delivery scam – Beware of unexpected gifts delivered to your door, where a uniformed driver drops off wine and/or flowers. Alas, he says he must collect a “verification” fee to prove delivery of alcohol and he can’t take cash. Before swiping your credit card with his device, you should realize his goal may be stealing your identity.
- USPS tracking scam – To see what mail and packages are coming to your house, you can now sign up for the convenient service called “Informed Delivery,” free from the U.S. Postal Service. You provide USPS your email, name, address. The trouble is, opportunistic scammers sign up before you do, giving them access to see what USPS will be delivering to you. Avoid the headache by either signing up yourself or opt out to block others by emailing USPS.
- Flat tire scam – Typically targeting travelers driving rental cars…a couple of con artists drive up next to you and signal that you have a flat tire. They offer to help. Once you pull over, you’re in trouble. As one person distracts you and talks, the other discreetly slashes a tire and/or takes your luggage. Instead, drive to a non-secluded place or gas station.
- Speeding ticket email scam – A driver gets an email for a speeding violation, which includes accurate street names, speed limits and even accurate driving speeds and fines. Caught red-handed, so you think you’ll pay it? Stop! This new malware scam usually has a fake link that loads malicious code onto your computer when you use the link or open an attachment. You can contact the local police department to verify a real ticket.
- Ride-sharing/Uber scam – You book a ride via a ride-sharing app and the car arrives. After you get in, you notice the real driver cancelled your trip via the app several minutes ago. But now you’re riding with an unknown driver, locked into a fare, and there’s nothing you can do. To avoid this, make sure your driver didn’t cancel and that he “starts” the trip before you close the car door.
If you want to know the latest scams, you can sign up for alerts from the Federal Trade Commission.
Safe shopping online?
It almost goes without saying…but you must be diligent about online scams too. Make sure you:
- Use a credit (never a debit) card.
- Shop on websites you know and trust.
- Use only secure websites – they have a URL starting with https (the “s” is key for security) and a lock symbol.
- Don’t be fooled by look-alike websites – where URLs mimic names of well-known brands but add an extra letter or word.
- Read before paying – you might have no recourse for returns, exchanges, or damaged goods.
- Ignore the pop-up ads and emails offering free gift cards – it’s a gimmick to mine your personal data for stealing identities.
Rather be out shopping in stores?
Scammers like crowded malls, busy retailers, ATMs and gas stations too. Beware of skimming devices placed on credit card machines or ATMs. And, don’t accept fake checks. If you aren’t sure whether something is a scam, use the Better Business Bureau (BBB) scam tracker to find out about one or report one.
Better Watch Out, Better Not Cry
And in case you thought everyone was being nice for Christmas, check this BBB list of most common holiday scams:
- Fake shipping notifications: This holiday phishing scam downloads malware on your computer to steal your identity and your passwords.
- E-cards: Two red flags are: the sender’s name is not apparent, and you must share personal info to get the card.
- Letters from Santa: There are trusted companies offering personalized letters from Santa, but scammers mimic them to get personal info from parents. Check with BBB.org for legitimate companies.
- Emergency scam: Beware of a call that claims to be a family member/friend in an accident, in jail, or hospitalized in another country. Confirm with another family member or police before you act or send money.
- Phony charities: Con artists take advantage of your generous mood with fake charity solicitations. Before you donate, check out the charity at Give.org.
- Temporary holiday jobs: Retailers and delivery services need extra holiday help and there is really a shortage of labor now. Before you share personal info online or pay for a job lead, verify! Apply directly at the retail store, or at least visit and get the legitimate online application link.
- Unusual forms of payment: If someone asks you to pay with a prepaid debit card, gift card, wire transfer, or third party, beware! These forms of payment are like cash – they can’t be undone nor traced.
- Social media gift exchange: This is a variation of a pyramid scheme, which is not legal. It promises that you buy/send one gift and get 36 in return.