7 Scams to Watch Out for This Holiday Season

Don’t Let Scammers Ruin Your Holidays
It’s bad enough that the sprint to buy holiday gifts this month can exhaust you as much as running a marathon. What’s even worse is the heartache that can result if you fall for these seasonal shopping ho-ho-hoaxes.

Package Theft
’Tis the busy season for package deliveries. And some 23 million recipients per year don’t get their goodies because thieves steal them from their doorsteps. To reduce the risk, arrange for a delivery that requires a signature upon receipt. Other options: Send gifts to the recipient’s workplace or have them delivered to a pickup location operated by the carrier. For example, purchases bought through Amazon can be delivered to an Amazon Locker location and retrieved using a pickup code. There’s no extra fee to use the service, which can be selected during checkout. Amazon has about 2,000 secure locations in more than 50 cities.

Fake Shopping Sites and Apps
Thieves can stalk you in email spam, on social media or in search engine results when you type terms such as “discount toys.” Their enticing but bogus pitches lead you to sham websites that tout bargain buys but deliver cheap counterfeits or nothing at all — except malware or identity theft after getting your credit card details.

Before clicking, carefully read the website address and look for missing or extra letters of a retailer’s name and words like “deals,” “sales” or “discounts” as part of the URL. Discounts that seem too steep also may point to a scam. Beware of websites that list no phone numbers or street address — only an email address or P.O. box. And be on the alert for sites that lack a return policy or whose purchase pages start with “http” versus the more secure “https” format. Always avoid offers that require payment by wire transfer or prepaid debit cards. Also watch out for emails from fake carriers claiming to have had a delivery problem — a link in the email could harbor malware.

Faux Freebies
From iPhones to cruises, the holidays are the time for emails, text messages and social media posts that promise free merchandise. Many of them are a ploy to install malware once you click on a link for details. Others lead to online surveys designed to steal personal information for possible identity theft or to set you up as a future target for scammers. Some bogus offers for freebies require your credit card, saying it is necessary to cover shipping costs or a deposit. That often leads to unnecessary charges on your bill.
 Before taking the bait, check the manufacturer’s or provider’s website. If the offer isn’t touted there, assume it’s the work of thieves.

And think twice before downloading free holiday-themed entertainment, screen savers or mobile apps. Some are specifically designed to hack personal information, passwords and files from your device.

Charity Cons
With the time for year-end tax write-offs approaching, the season of giving is ripe with bogus charities — especially for hot-button causes claiming to benefit police and firefighters, military veterans, sick or needy children, or victims of natural disasters. Ignore all email solicitations unless you previously donated to the particular cause. Watch for imitative words, such as “National” being substituted for “American” in a well-known name. Unless you dialed the call, don’t provide a credit card number over the phone. And before donating, verify an organization’s legitimacy at Charity Navigator or Give.org, or through your state’s agency that regulates charities.

Gift Card Grift
To prevent con artists from ripping you off when buying a gift card, get the card from the retailer’s website or from the store issuing it. The cards sold on display racks at grocery stores and pharmacies may have been tampered with. Thieves can open the packaging, copy the numbers, scratch off the strip for the security code and replace the card. Then they can cash in the card after calling the issuer’s toll-free number to learn when it was activated and for what amount. Avoid online auction offers for gift cards.

App Traps
In another ruse, bogus apps available in Apple and Android app stores mimic well-known retailers and products — from Dollar Tree and Foot Locker to luxury brands such as Jimmy Choo and Christian Dior. Some contain malware that can steal personal information or trigger ransomware to hijack mobile devices until a ransom is paid, notes the New York Times. Others encourage users to enter credit card information or log in using their Facebook credentials, which can jeopardize those accounts.

Before downloading, carefully check app logos and descriptions for misspellings, missing letters (such as “Foot Locke” without the “r”) or poor English, as many fakes originate in China. Other red flags include poor or few customer reviews, newly launched apps, or links to apps from other retailers.

Survey Swindles
These unexpected emails, text messages and social media posts promise a generous gift card, coupon or actual products for sharing your opinions about planned purchases or a “recent shopping experience.” But beware: Links that are supposed to lead you to a survey often hide computer malware. And “questions” about personal or financial information — including bank and credit accounts for supposed reward deposits — could be a setup for future identity theft or to get you on scammer-shared sucker lists for future come-ons.

Before clicking on any link that looks like it’s from a well-known company, hover your computer mouse over the URL. If the address doesn’t display the company’s name before the “.com,” assume that it’s a scam or possible malware — because when legitimate vendors conduct surveys, they often lead back to the company website.

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