’Tis the season to be vigilant. As the gift giving season heats up, so does the risk of falling prey to credit card fraud, email scammers and package theft. If getting conned isn’t on your Santa list this year, take note of the following holiday scams – or you may just find that your gift budget isn’t quite what you hoped.
Stolen packages aren’t much fun to open
Opening gifts around the tree is one of the most beloved holiday traditions. But with package theft one of the most common holiday scams, chances are that you might end up missing a few gifts. Don’t let yours be one of the 23 million parcels that go missing every year.
Either arrange to be home when you have a package coming, or opt for delivery that requires a signature upon receipt. You can also consider having your package delivered to your work or to a secure spot like an Amazon locker. Consider buying small but expensive gifts like phones and tablets in-store instead to minimize the risk of theft.
Phishing is only fun on the water
Most “hacking” these days actually involves people voluntarily giving scammers their personal information. The holiday season sees a huge uptick in digital scammers sending out emails that entice you in with deals or special offers. The hope is that you’ll provide financial details that will give the scammers what they need to go on a spending spree with your accounts.
Avoid clicking on links to unfamiliar sites, and when shopping check that you’re actually on a shop’s official URL, not just a lookalike. Shop using sites that begin with https – the “s” stands for “secure” – and only use your credit card when shopping online. Wire and debit transfers usually can’t be reversed if fraud occurs.
Always look a gift card horse in the mouth
Gift cards are already of questionable merit. They may be equivalent to cash, but most of them have expiration dates and many don’t let you cash out any remaining amounts on the card. But things only get worse in the holiday period, when unsuspecting shoppers can find themselves buying pre-used gift cards. How? Scammers open the cards and record the pin number, which is all they need to cash in the card. They then return the now worthless card to the rack for an unsuspecting shopper to buy.
Be cautious when shopping for gift cards at retailers like supermarkets or drug stores, and especially online. If possible, buy the card directly from the retailer’s website or the issuing store. This will minimize the risk of tampering.
Scammers don’t need your charity
The holidays fall at the end of the year, when on top of feeling generous, people are looking to make tax-deductible donations. Grifters posing as charities prey on this do-good sensibility with emails, letters, telephone calls and even door-to-door collections. Many will take on the trappings of legitimate charities, but with slight changes to names or details. Just because it sounds official doesn’t mean it is!
Make sure that your well-meaning donation doesn’t go to waste. Only donate to verified charities using their official website or documentation. Never provide your financial details over the phone, especially if they called you. Avoid donating to doorknockers – the real ones won’t mind if you donate through their website instead.
Winners are grinners except when they’re scammed
As the holidays approach we suddenly all become winners. Expect your email to overflow with congratulatory messages informing you of prize winnings. You may get text messages or telephone calls that do the same. Even the ads in your social media or mobile phone apps might start flashing with your supposed winnings.
As with anything, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. At best clicking on a link will infect your computer with malware. At worst you might watch your bank account being siphoned off. Be cautious of any supposed winnings – and whatever you do, don’t hand out your bank details or social security number.
Your generosity doesn’t have to extend to scammers
It’s okay to be a little cautious this season. As a general rule, be mindful of unknown numbers or emails from people you don’t know. Take extra care when checking your credit card statement or when making a purchase online. Avoid giving out personal details and shop only with retailers you know and trust. This way you’ll be confident that your gifts and goodwill go to the people who deserve it – and not those who don’t.