The Grinch may have embraced the holiday spirit, but unfortunately there are many scammers who have not. They take advantage of people’s generosity and busy schedules during the holiday season to steal information and money. People over the age of 65 are especially vulnerable to being targeted because they’re more likely to own their own home, have a retirement fund and have excellent credit. To keep Grinches out of your holidays, keep an eye out for the following common holiday scams:
- Online shopping schemes.
During the holidays, everyone is on the lookout for good shopping deals. But it’s important to be hypervigilant and cautious when something seems too good to be true. Scammers use compelling – but fake – offers to lure people into sharing information or clicking a link that downloads malware on their computer. These schemes can take several forms, including the following:
- Download an app for great discounts: A fake app will be made to look like a major retailer’s and offer significant discounts. Before downloading any apps, look to see if the business’s name is spelled correctly and whether the app has customer reviews. If there are typos and no reviews, it’s likely fraudulent.
- Loyal customer gift card: A retailer you frequent says they want to reward you with a gift card. All you need to do is click a link and provide your information to apply. Ignore the offer, as it’s unlikely to be real and probably an attempt to steal your information.
- Online secret shopper: You’re invited by email to shop online and rate retailers’ service. You can keep what you buy, and you may even be offered payment. To get started, you’re required to provide your financial information. Online secret shoppers are rarely recruited by email or through social media. Avoid these offers.
- Problem with your purchase: A business you’ve shopped at says there’s an issue with your order and asks you to click a link and provide your information again. An actual email about an order would reference the order number, and you would be asked to login to your actual account – not click a link.
In each of these examples, the scammer’s intent is to get you to click a malicious link and/or share sensitive information. During the holidays, and throughout the year, avoid clicking any links or attachments in suspicious emails, and don’t provide your personal information outside of your secure online accounts.
- Fake lottery or sweepstake winnings.
The risk here is twofold. You may be offered an enticing prize in exchange for filling out a survey, but it has a fraudulent link that downloads malware. Or, you may be contacted with the exciting news that you’ve won a lottery or sweepstakes. You may even receive a check, only to discover it’s fake when it bounces days later. In the meantime, they may claim they need you to cover a prize fee or taxes and direct you to send money.
- Fraudulent gift cards.
Gift cards are a great gift for adult grandchildren out on their own for the first time. But be careful where you purchase your gift cards. Fraudsters have been known to tamper with the gift cards displayed in grocery stores. Your best bet is to buy gift cards directly from the retailer at their register or on their website.
- Grandparent scam.
The holidays are a perfect time to reconnect with family. Scammers may pretend to be a grandchild in trouble. The act goes something like this: They explain they’ve experienced some difficulty, be it medical, financial or legal, and they need you to send money for bail, legal fees, hospital bills or some other need. If they’re pretending to be a grandchild, they may stress that you can’t tell their supposed parent.To avoid this scam, tell them you’ll call them right back. Then call the number you have for your grandchild directly. Also call their parent. If your grandchild is safe at home, you’ll know it was a scammer.
And, in general, be wary of any request to wire money. They’ll likely create a sense of urgency that pressures you into taking quick action. But money is rarely the immediate concern in a medical or legal emergency, and you have time to do your due diligence.
- Charity cheats.
People love to give back during the holidays, and scammers know this. They may pose as someone from a reputable charity or solicit donations for a made-up cause. Before you write that check, confirm the charity is legitimate.Make sure any donations you make are to organizations you trust. There are several steps to consider before giving. To verify the charity, start by asking for the charity’s name, address and phone number. Visit a website like the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance and CharityWatch to see if they’re reputable.
It’s okay to be generous during the holidays – as long as you’re also careful. Investigate offers before clicking any links or providing sensitive information. Confirm the identity of people who reach out for help and verify any organizations that contact you. It’s always okay to say no if you sense something isn’t quite right. By staying vigilant, you can better prevent a fraud attack and stay focused on enjoying the holidays.
Scammers are clever, so if you fall prey to one of their schemes don’t be too hard on yourself. If you are involved in a scam, contact your bank right away.