The holiday shopping season is in full swing, and millions of Americans will continue heading to stores and online retailers until the last minute to buy gifts for loved ones (and probably a few for themselves). Hopefully, you know the importance of budgeting for holiday expenses, but have you given much thought to protecting yourself from scams? Unfortunately, this time of year is peak season for financial predators. Here are some common scams along with tips to keep you protected.
Amazon Prime is all the rage (after all, it’s hard to beat free 2-day shipping), and many other online retailers are also offering free shipping to supplement the inherent convenience of online gift buying. Unfortunately, the increase in packages arriving to doorsteps is being matched by an increase in package theft. Thieves drive around neighborhoods looking for easy targets and even follow delivery trucks to the homes of unsuspecting consumers, before going right up to the stoop to steal the gifts.
Experts recommend sending packages to your work address. Of course, this isn’t always possible, so as a fallback consider asking neighbors who are home during the day to keep an eye out for packages or allow you to ship directly to them. You can also try to coordinate your schedule with the package delivery, which is usually very easy to track.
Illegitimate Shopping Sites
In trying to find the best deal, it’s pretty easy to stumble upon illegitimate shopping websites. You can usually identify them by a plethora of pop up ads and deals that appear too good to be true. The above example from urlvoid.com shows an even more dangerous example that looks fairly legitimate on the surface. Entering your payment information on one of these websites could put you in jeopardy, so tread carefully. If the site is one you haven’t heard of before, be sure to research it by looking for reviews or other signs of legitimacy via a Google search checking with the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) website. If you’re a tech savvy person, you can use these tips to evaluate a website too.
Online Shopping on public Wi-Fi networks
Even if you’re shopping on legitimate websites, you need to be aware of your connection. A public Internet connection might put you at risk, because others on the network may be able to access your personal or financial information. As a safeguard, it’s best to avoid any sort of shopping on a public network.
This is a biggie, but also one that takes many forms. From spammy emails to phone calls to in-person solicitation, scammers will contact you for money to help with a cause, only to take the money and run. In some cases, your credit information may be at risk; in others they may be looking for cash. Either way, just say “no” or consider vetting the supposed charity with the BBB or local law enforcement. Charitable giving is a good and admirable thing, but don’t be duped by a crook.
Social Media Promotions
Be wary of deals you see on social media, particularly contests or giveaways during this time of year. Of course, there are many legitimate promotions out there, but there are also lots of scams. Clicking from a site like Facebook and filling out a survey for a “chance to win” could jeopardize your identity.
Used Gift Cards
Gift cards make great gifts and they can come in handy for your own personal shopping. However, they are also easy targets for scammers who can steal the information and use the funds before you get the chance. If you buy a gift card in the store, be sure to look it over carefully and double check that it has not been tampered with. Also, keep your receipt. If you buy online, such as from a gift card reseller, you will want to use the funds as soon as possible to minimize risk, and also get in touch immediately with the company’s customer service if you experience a problem.
Travelers beware. The busy holiday season is a peak time for travel and the crimes associated with it. Be sure to keep an eye on your luggage so that no one else walks off with it while you aren’t looking. Perhaps one of the biggest problem areas for stolen luggage is at the airport before you go through security. Although there is a lot to keep up with, be sure to keep an eye on your luggage on the conveyor belt as you proceed through the metal detector. Ideally, make sure your luggage has gone through the enclosed portion of the conveyor belt before you go through the detector.
Credit Card Skimmers
Travelling by car instead of by plane? You’ve likely heard of “skimming,” a scam that targets consumers at the gas pump by stealing credit card information when the card is swiped as payment. This scam tends to heat up during peak travel times, such as near the holidays. To protect yourself, make sure you know what skimmers look like. Also, try to use pumps close to the front of the station (as these would be more challenging for a crook to access), pay with cash when possible, use the “credit” option if you pay with a debit card so that you don’t have to enter a pin and keep a close eye on your statements for any strange activity.
The holidays are meant to be a special time of year, so don’t let yours get ruined by a scam. Put these tips to use stay on the lookout for potential scams we didn’t cover. When in doubt, do some research with groups like the BBB or local law enforcement, because it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry.