holiday shopper

Alongside the hustle and bustle of the holiday season are also scams and fraud. Keep yourself and your family aware of common scams.

Chances are you know someone who has experienced fraudulent charges on a credit card or fallen victim to a phone or online scam. That someone may even be you! To keep fraudsters out of your life and wallet, we are highlighting common scams below, and offering ways to protect yourself against them.

Gift Card Scams

Two common ways gift cards could negatively affect your holiday season are: phone calls asking for gift card payments or tampered gift cards.

There are a few different scams gaining popularity lately that involve gift cards. The most common scams involve someone calling and posing as a company or possibly even the IRS, claiming that you owe money or back taxes. If you do receive such a call, hang up as soon as you can. If it is a scam, the less information you provide the better. Once you’ve hung up, find the organization’s information yourself, and contact them directly to verify any money owed. If the claim is legitimate, there would be a documented record. If it is, in fact, false, you can help alert them of this scam and your report could help other individuals that may be affected.

Gift card payments are ideal for scammers because they work like cash. When you give out the information for an activated gift card, it's like dropping that cash on the street. There typically isn't a way to trace where it goes.

Buying a gift card? Always save your receipt, and make sure to look closely at the card before purchase; an altered card will show signs of defect. If you see an exposed PIN on the back of the card, an open wrapper, or a different sticker covering the card’s activation code - pick out a different one. Give the defective card to an employee to handle.

Fraudulent Calls

Verify the authenticity of the number. Even if a real phone number matches up, it could still be a scam, called spoofing. Spoofing is when someone deliberately fakes their caller ID information to disguise their identity.

Still not sure who you’re talking to? Hang up, and look up the organization’s phone number yourself. If the information they were calling about is correct, another representative will be able to help.

Most mobile phones come with caller ID and scam protection preinstalled. It is a good idea to use this as a front line defense against fraud, don’t even answer if your phone recognizes a call as a scam.

Disappearing Packages

As online sales pick up, so does package theft and delivery scams. To discourage theft of your deliveries, consider using a home security camera. You can also sign up for email and text alerts to get a notice when packages are delivered, which may help you remember to bring them inside. Consider having your deliveries sent to a friend or relative if you know you won’t be home.

If you get a call or email claiming your package was unable to be delivered, you should be suspicious. The scammer may be impersonating a mail carrier and say you are getting a gift from someone. If asked for personal or credit card information for the delivery, don’t respond. If you aren’t aware of the package, odds are it doesn’t exist.

Fake Charities

As the holiday season begins, many people find themselves giving to great charitable causes. However, some of these charities may not be as legitimate as they claim. Scammers often will make you feel pressured or rushed to donate, so trust your instincts if it seems dishonest. You can always do your research and donate at another time.

How to know who to trust:

  • Use a research organization, such as Charity Navigator or GuideStar.
  • Be wary of crowdfunding sites - it is safest to only donate to people you know personally.
  • Review your bank account and credit card statement after a donation is given.

Make sure your holidays are full of joy with these simple ways to protect yourself against scams.