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Désirée Ávila, REALTOR®

7 Tips to Avoid Holiday Scams


It’s holiday season, the most favorite time of the year and time to celebrate!  The holidays bring joy, time off from work and days spent with family, but they can also be accompanied by added stressors. Whether you’re stretching your finances to afford presents, struggling with travel plans or rushing to get everything done before taking a few days off, the extra expenses and pressure could make you a prime target for identity theft or scams.

Scammers are always on the prowl, but the holiday season is especially ripe for identity thieves and fraudsters, who prey on the sense of urgency that surrounds online shopping this time of year. In order to have a happy and festive time, we are sharing some tips to avoid any headaches that could be caused by scheming scammers.

7 Tips to Protect Your Identity and Avoid Holiday Scams

1. Practice Caution Shopping Online

Online shopping scams were the riskiest type of scam in 2021, according to the most recent Business Bureau Institute Online Scams Report. Not only are these scams the most common, but they’re the most likely to lead to financial loss for their victims.

There are various types of online scams. Some of the scams replicate websites that look like a bonafide store, and offer unbelievable deals. But they are unbelievable, because they don’t exist. After someone offers their billing and payment information, thinking they are getting a deal, the only thing they get is extra charges on their credit card that don’t belong to them.

To avoid this scam, make sure you only shop and well-known retailers. Check the URL and make sure it has the name of the store. For example, Macys should be https://www.macys.com. If you end up on a site that says https://macys.discountstore.com, it is most likely fraud. Only shop well-known retailers. If in doubt, ask Google. There is a wealth of information about scams online.

2. Safeguard Your Passwords

Take the time to consider your account security before the holidays to help minimize the possibility that your accounts will be compromised. Use these best practices for keeping your accounts secure.

Create passwords that are not obvious and strong. Use special characters if allowed. A good password should be nonsense so that no hacker can easily guess it or make sense out of it, or at least it would take them a long time to try.

3. Check for Skimming Devices

If you’re shopping in stores, check for card-skimming devices that may be attached to an ATM or card reader. Card skimming fraud was up a shocking 759% year-over-year in the first half of 2022, according to data from FICO Card Alert Service.

These devices attach onto actual credit card machines when you are checking out.  Push and pull at it to make sure nothing pops out or off. If it stays intact it probably doesn’t have a skimmer.

4. Don’t Shop Using Public Wi-Fi

It can be tempting to cross a few items off your list while you’re out and about, but public Wi-Fi networks might not be secure. A VPN might keep some of your information secure, but it’s still best to avoid logging in to your accounts or making a purchase when you’re using a public network.

Use your cell phone’s WiFi if you really need to do something or wait until you get home.

5. Ignore Those Easy Work-from-home Job Ads

You may see ads about ways to “make $1,500 a week working from home.” Seems fairly easy, and the extra money could certainly help during the holidays – except, you may be inadvertently participating in a criminal enterprise.

As we mentioned at the beginning, if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is. That rule applies to Work-from-Home job ads too.

6. Verify Requests for Donations

Scammers may take advantage of people’s generous nature during the holidays. They’ll often send emails or make phone calls posing as representatives for charitable causes and use spoofing technology to make it look like the email or call is coming from a real charity. Instead of being used to help people, however, the money will go straight to the fraudster’s pocket.

Don’t let scammers ruin your giving spirit. Check out an organization’s website to find a legitimate phone number or online donation option when you’re ready to make a donation. If you’re unsure about a charitable organization, you can also look it up on sites like Charity Navigator and CharityWatch.

7. Ignore Calls from Government Agencies with Strongarm and High Pressure Tactics

Government agencies do not call people threatening to have them arrested if certain monies aren’t paid, criminals do. Nor do they ask for iTunes gift cards, or any other type of card, to pay past due fees or charges, criminals do. The IRS, Homeland Security and other federal and state entities send mail.

So if you receive a phone call threatening you, it is probably a scam. Hang up and call the actual government agency or a professional of trust such as a family attorney or accountant, that will be able to give you accurate information.

Keep the Holiday Season Wonderful

While we are all in a festive mood, looking to spend money on people we love, it makes us prime targets for cyber criminals. These scams are so successful cyber crime is booming, expanding and taking on new forms every day. According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center’s 2020 report, Americans reported more than $265 million in nondelivery scams, when consumers are charged for an item purchased online but it never arrives. They filed nearly another $130 million in losses related to credit-card fraud, $54 million in “smishing” campaigns—when bad actors send texts urging recipients to reveal personal information—and $4 million in charity scams.

While the dangers are real, if you follow the tips mentioned above, you can protect yourself from falling victim to a scam or having your personal information compromised. Keeping these tips in mind and listening to your instinct about when something feels funny can keep you from becoming a victim of cyber crime. 

So be aware, stay safe,  and enjoy this most wonderful time of the year!


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