Scammers Love the Holidays Too, Protect Yourself and Your Money

This Christmas holiday shopping season opened with a spate of smash-and-grab burglaries in many cities across the nation. High-end to main street stores and big box retailers have all been hit by brazen thieves that rush in as a group, wear face masks, grab merchandize and run away.

But the FBI and consumer watch groups warn that the usual uptick in crimes and scams during the holiday season do not only happen at retail stores or on the streets from criminals demanding money. Many crimes happen online or via the telephone. These crimes are not so obvious which is what make them more widespread and effective in bilking tens of thousands of unsuspecting consumers and elderly during the holiday season.

Authorities say scammers work year-found, but prey on the increased online payments and web usage during the holidays. Often people will lose money that aren’t recovered, and more seriously, have their identity stolen which opens up a victim to multiple crimes against them.

Know the popular scams out there
We want everyone to enjoy a safe and fun holiday season so we we’re raising consumer awareness and exposing specific holiday scams that the FBI, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Better Business Bureau (BBB) warn us to look out for.

Secret Sister Gift Exchange
BBB warns of the “Secret Sister” gift exchange that will appear each holiday season on social media. How it works? It promises participants they’ll receive up to 36 gifts in exchange for sending one gift. A participant is asked to provide his name, address and information about friends.

BBB says what happens is “You give away your personal information, and you’re left with buying and shipping gifts or money to unknown individuals, in hopes that the favor is reciprocated by receiving the promised number of gifts in return. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen.”

Often your personal information given is sent to other scammers.

What to do? Don’t participate in any buy-to-get online scams. If this popular holiday “Secret Sister” pyramid scheme shows up on your social media feed, BBB advises us to report it immediately.

Christmas Gift Card Scam
It’s common for people to buy gift cards from stores to give as gifts. People will often receive offers in their emails to buy gift cards. The scam? Criminals tell people to pay a small fee or discounted price for a gift card from a popular store. But it turns out the gift card is not legitimate.

Under this scam thinking to save money will end up you losing money instead.

What to do? Don’t buy gift cards outside of a physical store selling gift cards. If there is a deal you see online, be sure that the website you are visiting is a legit website.

Holiday package delivery scam
Online shopping took off even before the pandemic. It’s gotten even more popular now. Tracking our packages online or through text messages is something most of us have done. The scam? Criminals will send out text messages or call to say you have a package then lead you to a website to enter your personal information to track a package. They will either use that information to commit identity theft crimes or the website will have a malware to gain access to your personal information.

What to do? If you sent a package, be sure to keep your tracking number. If you haven’t sent a package, clearly it’s a scam and ignore the text or voice message.

Non-delivery payment crimes
A non-delivery scam involves consumers purchasing items online from a fake business. This type of holiday crime is one of the biggest scams and growing, according to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

What to do? Check each website’s URL that you plan to buy something from to make sure it’s legitimate and secure. A site you’re buying from should have https in the web address. If it doesn’t, don’t enter your information on that site.   If you’re purchasing from a company for the first time, check reviews, verify the legitimacy of a seller before buying anything.

Charity Scam
Lastly, many of us have open hearts and wallets particularly to aid in pandemic efforts.

What to do? Be sure to do your research on the charitable organization. Or consider helping someone you know directly in dire need and would be willing to accept assistance. In this case, you know exactly where that money is going.

Preferred, Never-do and To-Avoid Payment method
The preferred method of payment during the holiday season is by credit card, especially for online purchases. This way, consumers are able to track their purchases when receiving their credit card statement and dispute any unauthorized charges. Consumer watch groups say to never wire money directly to sellers. And to avoid paying with pre-paid gift cards. Why? Sellers could ask you to send them a gift card number and PIN, but instead, they could steal the funds and never send you your item.

The holiday season will bring out our most trusting side in light of the spirit of Christmas and goodwill spreading abound. With smart, common sense shopping and vigilance against scammers, we can avoid losing our hard-earned money and our valuable time reporting scammers and recovering our losses. When you see a potential scam, do the right thing and report it. You might have been cautious enough to avoid being duped, but someone else might fall prey.

The golden rule of thumb this holiday shopping: “If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably a scam.”  Move on, be cautious and enjoy the season of giving. Happy holidays.

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