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5 Common Holiday Scams and How To Spot Them

Most shoppers will be spending the holiday season using their hard-earned savings to purchase gifts for everyone on their wish lists. The last thing anyone needs is to be tricked out of their money but unfortunately, certain scams are prevalent during the holidays. Here are some of the most common holiday scams and what you need to know about spotting them to avoid being a victim.

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Charity Scams

Giving to charities during the holiday season allows individuals to spread goodwill and cheer to those who need it the most. However, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said many scammers may try to take advantage of you. Some common signs that you’re being targeted by a scammer include fake phone calls and/or texts spoofing the number of a legitimate charity, using local numbers to trick callers into picking up or emails pitching a fake charity website in an attempt to steal money or personal information.

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How do you avoid a charity scam? Refrain from donating if a website or caller seeks payment only by wire transfer, gift card or prepaid card, said Darius Kingsley, head of consumer business practices at Chase Bank

Do not give out your personal information over the phone, click on links in emails or respond to emails from charities you haven’t supported in the past. Kingsley said to also be wary of unsolicited social media messages, emails from organizations claiming to need donations and any emails with attachments.

“Legitimate organizations will never send you a message with an attachment,” Kingsley said. “If you receive an email appeal for aid with an attachment, delete it.” 

Still unsure about the legitimacy of a charity? The FCC recommends checking in with the National Association of State Charity Officials. This allows you to see if charities must be registered in your state and whether the charities contacting you are registered.

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Delivery Scams

It’s not uncommon to order packages and have them delivered during the holidays. A common scammer red flag, however, is receiving phishing scam emails. 

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These are often disguised to look as though they are from UPS, FedEx and even the U.S. Postal Service with a link to view your “missed deliveries.” Or, the FCC said this link could be in the form of a “tracking link” that urges you to click it and update your delivery or payment preferences. Clicking on these links can take you to fake sign-in pages asking for personal information or websites infected with malware. 

The simplest way to avoid a delivery scam is by not responding. Kingsley said don’t reply to an email, phone call or text message that asks you for your personal or financial information. This includes asking you to send money or cryptocurrencies to avoid a service interruption or to receive your delivery.

A delivery scam message may also incorporate the following elements to get your personal or financial information. Never respond to these common warning signs.

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Online Shopping Scams

It has never been easier to shop online for all your holiday gifts. However, shoppers who do not protect themselves run the risk of being targeted by online shopping scams. 

“Steer clear of private sellers with goods for sale at a price that seems too good to be true or with hard-luck stories, such as a need to sell quickly because of family loss, divorce or military deployment,” Kingsley said. 

When in doubt, Kingsley said to buy directly from a retailer’s official website and avoid websites offering unrealistic discounts on popular merchandise.

Travel Scams

“Free” vacations. Robocalls about vacation deals. Premium vacation properties advertised at super cheap prices. These are a few common travel scams that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said may attempt to notify you through a call, text, email or flyer in the mail. 

If it sounds too good to be true, chances are it usually is. Sophisticated scammers often try to mimic popular travel websites by recreating familiar branding, logos or company verbiage. Travel scams often lack specific details, like the name of the cruise company where you’ll be enjoying a “luxury” trip, and insist you pay immediately through a wire transfer, gift cards or cryptocurrencies. 

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Pay through the service’s official website when booking any sort of travel. The FTC recommends getting a copy of the cancellation and refund policies before you pay. Walk away if you are unable to get these details. 

Kingsley said you can advocate for yourself as a scam checker by looking up unfamiliar retail, travel and charity sites online. Search for their names along with terms like “scam,” “complaints” or “reviews.”

Another helpful tip? The FTC recommends checking to see if the property’s address exists. Call the front desk if the property is located in a resort and confirm its location and if other details on the contract are correct.

Gift Card Scams

Many Americans will receive gift cards as a holiday present this year. Gift cards, however, are popular with scammers. Third-party websites may sell gift cards, some of which have already expired, to unsuspecting shoppers. 

Kingsley said shoppers can avoid this scam by buying cards directly from the retailer and avoiding shopping for discount gift cards through local swap websites. If you receive an unsolicited email or text offering you a gift card, do not respond to it. Your computer or mobile device could become infected with a virus or malware.

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