While many of us are gearing up to celebrate the fall and winter holidays, it’s often the case that scammers are gearing up as well. Unfortunately, this time of year does mean that we might be targeted with less than above-board propositions. We’ve pulled together a list of some common holiday scams for you to watch out for.
The ‘Secret Sister’ Gift Exchange
This one has been popping up on social media every year for a while now, and it’s quite the sneaky scam. It may go by different names, but the description is usually similar. The post will begin describing what sounds like a simple Secret Santa — where you sign up and each person in the group gets randomly a assigned a person to buy or make a gift for. The catch is the claim that you can receive several (up to 36) gifts while you yourself only send the one. If the math sounds confusing on that, it should! This is a pyramid scheme (which is illegal) and potentially a way for scammers to get enough personal information to steal your identity. The worst part is that these requests might be coming from your friends and family if they don’t know that they’re participating in an illegal scam.
This time of year is huge for nonprofits and charities in the US. Not only are people in the giving mood, they may be looking to donate at the end of the year for tax reasons, too. Scammers know that individuals are trying to be more thoughtful and generous — and they’re taking advantage of it by creating fake charities for you to donate to. Always be sure to do a bit of research on a charity before donating a substantial amount, especially if they’re the ones reaching out to you in the first place.
These are a problem year-round, but the holidays often come with loads of extra emails. In addition to the regular scams you might recognize, there are also the ones that look like an invitation to an event or an e-card that ask you to click on things once you’ve opened the email. If you don’t recognize the sender, be extra cautious.
Mail & Package Theft
This one is especially disappointing for the little ones in the family if what’s stolen are gifts. Some police stations will allow you to have packages addressed to them for added safety if you think it may be an issue this year or have experienced this problem before. Check with your local station about this option.
Scammers know that everyone is looking for big deals and Black Friday sales at this time of year. If you’re searching for those types of sales, make sure the website you end up on is legitimate. Do a little external research on them off of the website itself. Often typing in the name of the company plus the word ‘scam’ will help you ferret out the bad ones.
We all wish scammers understood that no one is interested in their extended warranty scams. Those obvious ones aren’t the only style of phone scam out there today. Check with elderly family members to make sure they’re aware that people calling to tell them that they’re in trouble with the law and demanding they pay fines are scams.
Using your phone to order gifts for a loved one online? Make sure you’re not hooked up to a public wi-fi first. This can compromise the security of your phone activity, especially when making online purchases. On the note of mobile purchases, it’s also a bit more difficult to verify that the site is the correct one on your phone.
Manufacturers of gift cards are working to make it more difficult to cheat the system, but it’s still not always perfect. When purchasing a gift card that’s available for you to pick up in the store (like on a rack of them) make sure the film covering the activation code hasn’t been scratched off already. Scammers will get the card number and the code, then wait for someone else to buy it and redeem the card themselves.
Scamming at the Register
Do you work in retail or any other service industry where you handle payments from customers? Scammers will use the hustle and bustle of the holiday season to try to pull a fast one on well-intentioned employees. This can be with fake bills, or simply through claims that the bill they gave you was larger than it actually was.
Bogus Holiday Jobs
Looking to make a little extra cash this season? Scammers will set up fake hiring offers for real companies with links that lead to a fake website. You’ll enter your information to apply for the job, and they’ll make off with it. The worst part is that you may just assume that you weren’t selected for the job and not even think to check your credit report.