It’s that time of year again – time to hang the lights, decorate the tree, and fill the house with the smell of baked goods. It’s the one time of the year when people make an extra effort to be friendly and really embrace the spirit of the holidays. Unfortunately, it is also prime time for scam artists. Although they may target anyone, these predators frequently target the elderly, particularly during the holiday season.
Why Are the Holidays Popular with Scammers?
While we should all remain on the lookout for scams and fraud throughout the year, as the holidays approach we need to go on high alert. This is particularly true for the elderly because scammers intentionally target them. Why are scammers more prolific during the holidays? There are several reasons, starting with the simple fact that it is the busiest shopping season of the year. For a fraudster or scam artist this means there is more money available to steal or swindle. In addition, most of us pay less attention to our bank accounts and credit card statements during the holidays, instead preferring to deal with the damage after the holidays are over. Finally, the elderly are targeted because they are more trusting, may be less technologically savvy, and often have more money to spend – three characteristics that make them irresistible to scammers.
Tips for Avoiding Scams
Now that you are aware of the prevalence of predators during the holidays, how can you avoid becoming the victim of a scam or fraud? Recognizing some of the common scams can help you avoid falling victim to them. The following are common holidays scams:
- Gift card scam – gift cards are everyone’s “go to” holiday gift if you don’t know what to buy someone or if you wait until the very last minute. As a result, we all seem to get at least one gift card we will never use. Consequently, selling unwanted gift cards online has become big business. Scammers, however, will ask you to “verify the balance” on a three-way call. What they are really doing is recording the sound of your keystrokes so they can figure out your login information for the card. With that, they can use the card online without paying a penny for it. To prevent falling for this scam, never agree to a phone call with a buyer. In fact, the best way to sell unwanted gift cards is to go through legitimate gift card sites such as Gift Card Granny or Raise.
- Fake charities – the bogus charity scam is hardly a new one; however, with the advent of the internet scam artists have found new ways to solicit money for their fake causes. Crowdfunding sites such as GoFundMe are used to help raise money for people in need, but they can also be used to solicit money for less than needy causes. To prevent falling victim to this scam, never give money to crowdfunding sites unless you personally know the person running the funding campaign. In addition, always vet a charity by checking with organizations such as Charity Watch or Charity Navigator before deciding to donate.
- Copycat websites – yet another way that the internet can be used to defraud unsuspecting victims is by sending you to copycat or phony websites. You click on an advertisement or a link in an article, thinking you are being taken to a legitimate website, only to end up on a copycat site. Many of these copycat sites look legitimate, causing shoppers to place orders. The shopper either never receives the merchandise or receives cheap knock-offs of what they thought they ordered. To avoid this scam, pay very close attention to both the URL and the website itself. Look for misspelled words or other errors on a website. Often, the site just feels “off.” Pay attention to that feeling. Also look for extra words in the URL, such as “Amazonshopping.com.” If you have any doubt, back out and type the address to the site directly into your browser.
- Phony order notifications – this time of year we tend to receive a lot of packages in the mail. This scam involves a victim receiving what appears to be a legitimate notification in the mailbox or via email indicating a delivery attempt was made. The victim is instructed to call a number at which time the victim is asked to provide a credit card number or social security number in order to verify the delivery. That information is then stolen and used to commit identity fraud. To avoid becoming a victim of this scam, do some research before you pick up the phone and call. All major delivery services (USPS, FedEx, UPS) have websites that allow you to track a package. If the tracking number provided on the “notice” doesn’t work, it’s probably bogus. If you are still unsure, call the number listed on the official website instead of the one on the notice you received.
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