The holiday shopping season is in full swing, but it is no time to let your guard down. Be wary of these popular schemes and tactics:
Package Delivery Scams
Scammers readily take advantage of the influx of online purchases and package deliveries during the holiday season. You could receive a text or email indicating a package is being delivered with a link to a tracking number. Or, the message may request that you reschedule your delivery or pay a fee. Clicking links in email or text messages may contain malware or take you to a fake website asking for login credentials or credit card information. Either way, the package doesn't exist and if you've given up personal information you could risk identity theft.
The holiday season is a reason to give back for many and scammers know how to take advantage of your generosity. Watch out for emails and messages appearing to come from well known organizations. These can be fake websites impersonating legitimate ones.
Social Media Gift Exchange
Gift exchange scams have been around for a few years, but each year there seems to be a new "twist". You receive an email or a message on social media to sign up for a fun gift exchange. You just need to give your personal information, and you’re left with buying and shipping gifts to unknown individuals, in hopes that the favor is reciprocated by receiving the promised number of gifts in return. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen. This year's trendy exchanges includes sending money to "pay it forward", and Secret Santa Dog where you're asked to send a $10 gift for a "secret dog". By the way, these are also considered pyramid schemes and are illegal in the U.S. and Canada.
Gift Card Scams
Many times this scam is in the form of a phone call. They may claim to be from a government agency such as the IRS, pretend to be a family member urgently in need of money, or they may say you've won a prize and just need to pay a fee to receive your reward. Either way, anyone asking you to buy a specific gift card as a form of payment and to give them the redeeming information, is not legitimate.
It's tempting to snatch up a good deal when you see one, but it's buyer beware when pricing seems too good to be true. Online scammers often set up imposter websites, auction listings or ads that offer popular items far below market value. Some will send you a fake product, while others will simply take the money and run. Some will even go so far as to provide you fake shipping updates just to maintain your trust.
Avoid these scams by practicing the following:
- Beware of phishing and smishing. An email or a text message is often how fraudsters initiate the scam. If you aren't expecting the email or text message, verify its legitimacy BEFORE you click.
- Verify charities before donating. Before giving, research the charity at a reputable website like Give.org through the better Business Bureau, and make sure you verify the organizers of smaller campaigns, like GoFundMe.
- Never give personal information to strangers. This will open you up to identity theft and other scams.
- Only use gift cards as gifts. Never use them to pay fees or "debts", and only redeem them at the issuer's store.
- Only use well known, trusted retailer websites to make purchases. A quick search of the site on Google or the Better Business Bureau may clue you in if it is known for scamming. Also, if the site does not start with "https", steer clear.
Always remember, if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Visit the Federal Trade Commission to learn more about scams and how you can protect yourself.