Now that we are in December, we are in full holiday mode. That means decorating the house, buying holiday gifts, giving to charities, and celebrating with family and friends near and far. With our spirits high and our wallets open, there is plenty of room for people to take advantage of our goodwill and holiday cheer. Fraudsters engage in online shopping scams, package delivery scams, and charity scams, among other activities that are sure to put a damper on our holiday season should we become a target of these misdeeds. Unfortunately, this is exactly what will happen to three-quarters of U.S. consumers this season. Below, we provide some examples of holidays scams to watch out for and ways to keep yourself safe so that you can fully enjoy the holiday festivities.
Online purchase scams typically appear as advertisements on social media platforms that lead consumers to fake online stores promoting deeply discounted prices. Over the past couple of years, Americans lost $2.7 billion to social media scams on sites like Facebook and Instagram, according to a recent Federal Trade Commission report. However, “[b]ecause the vast majority of frauds are not reported, [$2.7 billion] reflects just a small fraction of the public harm,” the FTC said. According to the report, 44% of these frauds involved consumers who purchased a product or service through an ad on a social media site but never received their purchase. Be cautious of sites requiring you to use an irreversible payment method (such as wire transfers, payment apps like Zelle, or gift cards). These scammers may also steal your credit card number after you make your purchase. Signs of this scam include:
- an offer of significant discounts (50% off or more) on all of their items. If an obscure online store offers the “best available prices online,” there’s a good chance it’s a scam. Remember the adage: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- signs of a phishing scam, such as poor spelling and grammar, bad quality images, and fake-sounding reviews
- a lack of basic company information, such as an “About Us” page, contact information, such as a phone number and address, or information about returns
To avoid this scam, verify the item and price on the company’s official website. Better yet, buy your items through the company’s website rather than through the social media platform. If you still want to buy from an unfamiliar retailer, do your research – Google the name of the website with the words “complaints,” “reviews,” and “scams.” Using a credit card for your purchase allows you to report the fraud and stop the payment. Or play it very safe and find a similar product on a trusted website like Amazon.
Mail Scams: Recent years have seen consumers doing more online shopping. Indeed, the ease of online shopping and the ability to buy unique products outside of our geographic area is affecting our physical retailers. More online shopping means more door-to-door deliveries and more packages piling up on our doorsteps. A recent scam involves fraudsters sending fake delivery notification text messages to consumers in the hopes they will click the link. Once you click, you go to a fake website designed to steal your personal information, get you to enter your credit card number, or trick you into sending money. Signs you received a fake delivery notification text include:
- a request for sensitive information. FedEX, UPS, and other delivery companies won’t ask for your SSN or credit card number to “find” your delivery
- the link in the text takes you to a site that isn’t on the official UPS, USPS, or FedEx domains. For example, you can trust websites that use UPS.com, FedEx.com, or USPS.com, but other variations of these domain addresses are scams.
To avoid this scam, track deliveries through the delivery company’s official website. Make sure to visit the site directly — do not use the link provided in a text message or email.
Another mail scam involves old school stealing. Consider installing a camera or asking a neighbor to pick up your packages if you are not going to be home when the packages are due to arrive.
Charity Scams: People tend to be more generous around the holidays, whether it is in support of #GivingTuesday or for the tax deduction at the end of the year. Scammers know and take advantage of this. Be careful with your donations. Scammers either ask for donations for fake organizations or impersonate a charity employee hoping to redirect your donation. First, ensure that the charity you are supporting is legitimate by confirming its existence on Charity Navigator or through the IRS tax-exempt organization search. Second, be wary of phone solicitations, especially demands for immediate payment. Do not give credit card information over the phone; instead make your donation through a verifiable website to ensure the money goes to a legitimate cause.
What should you do if you fall for a scam?
Unfortunately, scammers are getting more creative and tech savvy, making it more difficult to discern their intentions and easier to fall prey to their tactics. If you are a victim of a scam involving a purchase, report the fraud to the financial institution that issued the card you used for the purchase. You can dispute the payment and put the financial institution on alert that the scammer may attempt to purchase other items with your information. You can also report suspected fraud to the FBI, FTC, and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. These agencies have enforcement authority and can cite companies for wrongdoing. You can also report a company to the Better Business Bureau, which has a scam tracker.
Remember, fraudulent misconduct and scamming consumers is not limited to the holiday season. Come January, continue to do your research and take your time with web purchases to ensure you are purchasing from a reputable company or through a reputable site. Always be vigilant in protecting your private information and take specific care to evaluate unsolicited communications that come your way.