- The holiday season, when consumers are primed to spend on everything from gifts to charities, is an active time of year for scammers.
- This post offers tips on how to protect yourself from scams on gift cards, shopping, social media, and more.
‘Tis the season… for scamming?
You might think the bad guys would want a little peace and quiet around the holiday season, but that’s not the case. As consumers open their pocketbooks in the weeks ahead, they may be even more at risk than usual. As the FBI’s Los Angeles Bureau wrote in a warning released November 30, during the 2022 holiday shopping season, the bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received reports from almost 12,000 victims resulting in losses over $73 million.
The FBI breaks down the possible risks into a few categories: online shopping scams, social media shopping scams, gift card scams and charity scams. In this post, we’ll outline what you should look for, and ways to protect yourself.
Online Shopping Scams
Be wary of deals that seem too good to be true. Those include deals on brand names you know, but at prices that are just too low to be real.
The FBI also says to “steer clear of untrustworthy sites or ads.” One helpful tip from Virginia’s attorney general: secure web sites always begin with “https.”
Another, from Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection: If you’d like to buy something from a company you don’t know, you might be able to get a sense of how reputable it is by googling its name plus words like “scam,” “complaint” or “review.” Also, don’t make any financial transactions, including banking or shopping, when you’re using a WiFi hotspot or a public network.
And don’t forget that when you pay for purchases with a credit card, you have some protection if your account is compromised. Monitor your card activity often, at all times of the year, to make sure all the transactions are ones you’ve made, and dispute anything suspicious with your card issuer.
Social Media Shopping Scams
Consumers should be wary of social media posts that appear to offer vouchers or gift cards. Some may look like holiday promotions or contests or may seem to come from known contacts. These scams may entice you to enter a survey, which will collect your personal information, or make a purchase, which will compromise your financial information.
You may also want to review our overall tips for staying safe online — and make extra sure that your children aren’t doing anything on the computer that could jeopardize your privacy or finances.
Gift Card Scams
If someone asks you to purchase gift cards, say for a business function or a charity, don’t do it! Also, don’t share the numbers from any gift cards you’ve purchased for your own use. If you think you’ve been approached to be part of a scam, you can report it at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
When you’re buying physical gift cards from a store, be extra careful that the card’s numbers are hidden from view, and that its packaging is not tampered with. Some scammers have been known to take down the numbers of unactivated gift cards, then wait until they are loaded with money before “draining” the funds.
“Charity fraud rises during the holiday season, when individuals seek to make end-of-year tax deductible gifts or are reminded of those less fortunate and wish to contribute to a good cause,” the FBI says. If you want to give, it’s best to stick with charities you know.
If you’ve heard from a charity that you don’t already know, and it seems legitimate, you can consult Charity Navigator or Guidestar. Both resources will give you lots of information about the charity’s mission, finances, and more. In addition, most states have registration databases for legitimate charities, which you can check if you’re unsure.
In conclusion, take our advice and protect yourself this season. Be extra careful, whether you’re pulling out your wallet or clicking “buy now.” You’ll have a much nicer and safer holiday.
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