We all want to give this season, but consumer protection organizations want to warn you to be leery of unintended recipients.
Here’s a roundup of common year-end cons designed to steal your money, your identity, or both:
Fake websites: These often promote amazing online deals for popular merchandise, but only exist to collect your payment card or personal information, which scammers use to purchase merchandise elsewhere or commit identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests doing a price-check on conventional online retailers (such as Amazon) before entering payment information on what looks like a too-good-to-be-true item. Look at the “contact us” information: If no phone number is listed or it doesn’t work, that’s not a good sign. Also check the site’s registration details at WHOis.net. It should provide phone numbers for administrative and technical contacts so you can verify the site is real.
Bogus charities: Scammers will prey on your generosity with donation requests via e-mail, phone, social media, and texts. Ask for contact information, and before you give, check the legitimacy of the charity on sites like the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB’s) Wise Giving Alliance or Charity Navigator. Pay by credit card if you can—if the charity turns out to be a scam, you can dispute the charge.
Gift card fraud: Fraudsters copy the codes on gift cards and place them back on the rack for an unsuspecting person to buy. They then periodically check online or by phone to find out if the cards have been purchased and loaded with funds. When they get a hit, the scammers will use the codes to drain funds from the cards. The FTC says avoid buying cards with signs of tampering—scratches on the card or exposed PIN numbers. Be careful buying gift cards on online auction sites—they are known to be used by scammers to peddle counterfeit gift cards. Keep receipts for all of the gift cards you purchase. If you find out later that funds have been deducted from the card improperly, having a paper receipt can help you recover lost funds.
Chip card scams: Many credit issuers and banks are issuing credit and debit cards that contain chips designed to reduce fraud. Watch out for scammers posing as the card issuer and asking for personal information via e-mail in order to send you your new chip card—there’s no reason for it, says the FTC. The issuer can just send you a new chip card. If you’re contacted in this way, call the phone numbers listed on your actual credit card to ensure it’s for real.
Social media gift exchange: Buy one gift and send it off to a stranger and get back many more. Sounds tempting, doesn’t it? But the BBB warns it’s just a variation of a pyramid scheme and it’s illegal.
Home delivery scams: These operate in a couple different ways. In one method recently reported by the FTC, scammers send you a “delivery failure notification” via e-mail. It says you missed delivery of a package but if you download an attached form or click on a given link, you can provide the information or fill out the form, and you’ll be able to retrieve your package … except there isn’t one. And by clicking these links or downloading attachments, you’ll likely infect your computer with a virus or install malware on it. Other signs it’s a scam include requests to take immediate action or to provide personal or financial information. In another version, you get a call saying a delivery is on its way. The doorbell rings, and the courier claims to not know who the sender is, demands a “verification fee” to leave the package, and pulls out a handheld credit card scanner to enable the fraudster to steal your information. Don’t provide your card or pay anything. If someone you know were trying to surprise you with a gift, that person would use an established delivery service.
For more holiday scam warnings, visit the BBB’s list of common holiday scams. Also check out its newly launched Scam Tracker, which provides consumers across North America with a place to report scams and fraud, and to warn others of malicious or suspicious activities. Users can search using different filters to see what scams are happening in their area, track a particular type, and report scams that they hear about.
Also check out the DCA website, where you can learn more about protecting yourself from fraud through resources like our Senior Scam Stopper Seminars and our award-winning Consumer Connection magazine.