Scammers make a killing during the holiday season. While you spend your time thinking of ways to bring holiday joy to others, they spend their time thinking up ways to steal from you. The saddest part about this is that the ghosts of Christmases past keep visiting Christmas present.
With that, I give you this year’s 12 scams of Christmas.
The Gift Card Scam
While definitely a ghost of Christmas past, this still works so scammers still do it. It’s pretty simple. The thief records the numbers displayed on a gift card, and then calls the company that issued it to find out if it has been activated, which occurs when the card is purchased. The problem here is one of timing. If you buy a gift card early in the shopping season, it’s more exposed to fraud. That said, recipients of gift cards often take a while to use them.
Tip: If you are going to purchase a gift card, do it as close to Christmas Day as possible, and encourage the recipient to use it as soon as possible.
Sneak Attacks on Your Credit
With the non-stop news of data breaches involving credit card numbers, many of us are walking around with compromised payment cards that can be used by a scammer, and there is no more perfect time of the year for them to try than Christmas. The usual warning signs of an account takeover, or a fraudulent charge, may be harder for financial institutions to spot, since Christmas gifts often don’t conform to a cardholder’s buying patterns.
Tip: Sign up for transaction alerts from your bank or credit card issuer that notify you any time there is activity on your accounts.
While it’s not exactly the way it plays out in our nation’s malls and shopping districts, Christmas is traditionally a time for contemplation and charitable giving—something captured very well in Charles Dickens’s classic, “A Christmas Carol.” So if you want to give during the holiday season, it’s crucial to make sure the appeal is real.
Tip: Before responding to an online appeal, visit the website by typing in the organization’s URL manually, or by using search to find the link. If you are still unsure, call. If you are still uncomfortable, use Charity Navigator or contact the Office of the Attorney General in your state to confirm the organization’s authenticity.
Temporary Holiday Jobs
Holiday jobs are a good way to make some extra money, and there are a lot of them, but bear in mind there are myriad scammers out there who may offer fake jobs to harvest your very real personally identifiable information—the most valuable of which being your Social Security number.
Tip: Don’t give your Social Security number to anyone unless you absolutely have to, and don’t provide it before you confirm you’re dealing with a representative of a real organization that has offered a job to you. Never send your information digitally unless you know the recipient uses proper security protocols. (You may not be using secure tech either, so try to be conservative about what you send digitally.)
Phishing, Vishing and Smishing
You might receive a phone call, a text or an email. It doesn’t matter what the delivery system is, it’s a fraud but it won’t necessarily look like one. It could look like a sales promotion from a brand you like, or an offer on a deal that seems too good to be true, or even just “pretty good.” Scam artists can be very nuanced. Be on the alert before you act on any offer.
Tips: Check to see the URL matches exactly, and that you never provide any personal information on any web page unless the URL is secure and starts with “https.” Email links should always be considered suspect.
The holidays can be lonely, and catphishers know that. Love scams are the worst, as they prey on the emotions in the most exploitative ways disarming the heartstrings with an eye to loosening purse strings. The money lost can be considerable, and the upset unfathomable.
Tip: As corny as it seems, be careful with your heart and don’t give it away to just anyone. If you feel like you’re falling for someone and they somehow can never make an in-person appearance, don’t send them money to do so. You can do better.
You might fall victim to the restaurant flyer scam, the menu for a non-existent eatery shoved under the door resulting in an order that gets you robbed, or it could be the front desk scam where you get a call after check-in asking for another credit card number because “the one you provided was rejected.”
Tip: Assume the worst when in unfamiliar territory, and be on guard when traveling. Always distrust. Always verify.
Fake online shops
This is a tough one, but here’s the deal… Bargain? Amazing prices on things that should cost a lot more than they are asking on a fake online shop is alluring, which is why people fall for them all the time. Pop up shops are cool, but they may not always be legit.
Tip: Look at the About Us page and call the designated contact number. If there is no number, think twice before making a purchase. Also pay attention to detail. Are there spelling errors in the copy? Bad-looking stock photos? Look for trouble.
We all appreciate the sentiment behind an e-card, but that should not outweigh the risk of malware that can take a computer hostage or record every keystroke so that your most sensitive credentials for financial accounts can be stolen. E-cards are a popular form of fraud among scam artists, and you should be very cautious when you receive one.
Tip: Email, call or text the sender and ask if they sent an e-card. In this environment of constant attack, they will understand (and if they don’t, your Christmas present to them can be forwarding this column).
This scam is built for people old enough to remember a physical, printed voucher, which, presented in person at a brick and mortar store, would get you a discount. They were basically a coupon. E-vouchers are fine if they come in the form of a number sequence, discount code or keyword, but anything else should be considered suspect.
Tip: Be on the lookout for grammar or spelling errors. Always type in the URL of the site for which you have an e-voucher, and enter the code or number there. If it comes by way of text or email and it involves a link, don’t click through.
Fake Shipping Notifications
What could be worse than a message from your favorite e-tailer letting you know that the must-have item you ordered is out of stock or was sent to the wrong address. Another oldie but goodie among thieves is a notice informing you that the “Item has been delivered” when it hasn’t been.
Tip: Never click any link associated with this type of communication. Always log onto the e-tailer site for more information, or pick up your phone and call.
Wish list scams
Online wish lists are a bad practice that should be discouraged. In theory, the online wish list creates a place where friends and relatives can find out what you want for Christmas, which many find preferable to guesswork. Beyond being horribly transactional, the practice opens the list-maker to phishing attacks, since scam artists will automatically know what interests you.
Tip: If you must post a wish list online, custom set the privacy on the post so that only particular people can see it, and don’t include any personally identifiable information.
At Christmas it’s always better to give the gift, than be the gift that keeps on giving to identity thieves.
If your personal information does fall into the hands of a scammer, be sure to monitor your credit for signs of identity theft. You can do so by viewing your free credit report snapshot, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.