Tuesday November 30, 2010
Top Five Christmas Scams
Don't let online grinches steal your holidays
Courtesy of Scambusters.org
s the Christmas shopping season shifts into high gear, take time to think carefully before making your purchases and any charitable donations.
Although scammers are always prowling for victims with the following scams, consumers are especially vulnerable during the holidays. With so much to do, many otherwise cautious people let their guards down.
Con artists are ready to exploit busy, distracted shoppers -- some desperate to buy popular gift items. They're also ready to "ramp up" their emotional appeals when posing as representatives of real (or real-sounding) charities.
We believe the following 5 Christmas Scams will dominate the 2007 Christmas season. However, if you use common sense and take our advice, the Grinch won't have a chance of stealing YOUR Christmas.
Top 5 Christmas Season Scams
Fly-By-Night Web Merchants
Each holiday season features THE gift -- an item so "hot" that many store shelves are quickly emptied, causing people to literally lose their minds in an effort to buy it.
To exploit scarcity, scammers set up websites offering this product, as do dishonest online auction sellers. After raking in the money, the scammers shut down their "stores" and disappear. If you're "lucky," you are simply left with no gift item. If you're unlucky, you are further victimized by a phishing scam (below.)
This is run by someone who will use your credit card information to charge more products and services to your account and/or sell the information to identity thieves. In most cases, however, phishing scammers launch websites that look nearly identical to those of larger, reputable merchants -- not unknown companies.
Typically, you're contacted by email with a tempting offer or dire warning, and then directed to click on a link, which takes you to a fake website. Once there, you're told to enter personal and financial information wanted by the thieves.
Read Phishing Scams: How You Can Protect Yourself to find out more about phishing scams.
Safety Tips: To avoid falling prey to either Christmas scam fly-by-nighters and phishing;
Shop only with reputable merchants, preferably ones you've used before.
Confirm that the website actually BELONGS to that merchant. Don't click on links in unsolicited emails. Type in the URL yourself.
Use a credit card, not your debit card. Even if you never get the merchandise, credit cards aren't directly linked to your bank account, and you're also not responsible for more than $50 in fraudulent charges.
If possible, use one-time use credit card numbers, called "controlled payment numbers" or "virtual account numbers," for your online purchases. We've talked about these before (see #4 about a third of the way down MasterCard Security Alert). Bank of America also offers these now (they call it ShopSafe). We personally use these special credit card numbers all the time -- it's much safer.
Scammers may pose as representatives of charitable organizations that are real (or merely sound real). At this time of year, their emotionally-charged appeals are more likely to strike "pay dirt" with normally savvy people. We recently reported a new email phishing scam that's soliciting donations to help victims of the California wildfires.
You can be sure that other scams will soon be asking for donations to this cause and many others. The scams may involve nationally recognized charities aiding well-known causes, or local groups handling problems closer to home.
Safety Tips: Whether you're approached by email, telephone or in person, be VERY wary of high-pressure, donate NOW pitches.
Avoid "charities" whose representatives won't answer reasonable questions, such as (specifically) how the money will be spent.
And NEVER give cash or supply credit card information via email or phone. Don't write checks payable to an individual solicitor. If you've never heard of an organization, confirm for yourself that it's real.
Gift Card Scams
Nearly every major retailer offers gift cards, many of which hang on racks at checkout counters. Today, most cards are protected by scratch-off security codes and protective packaging to prevent information theft.
If cards are not protected, however, scammers can write down the numbers while the cards are on display, and then call an 800 number to learn when the cards have been activated.
After that, stealing is as simple as rushing to the merchant and making purchases before the REAL cardholder gets there.
Safety Tips: Purchase gift cards online, if possible. Or, only buy the cards from retailers when they're kept behind registers or available upon request.
Check out our Special Issue on New Gift Card Scams: 8 Tips to Protect Yourself.
Holiday E-Card Scams
You may receive an email from an unnamed "relative," "neighbor," or "friend" who has supposedly sent you an e-card that can be viewed by clicking on a link.
Clicking on that link, however, may unleash anything from spyware and pop-up ads to viruses and Trojans. In some cases, nothing bad happens until you first download software from the e-card website. (The software is supposedly needed to "run" your e-card.)
Sometimes, unwanted or malicious software is downloaded to your computer with your permission -- after you agree to certain "fine-print" terms and conditions, usually without reading them.
Safety Tips: If there's any doubt about an e-card's authenticity, don't click on any links inside.
Delete e-cards from people you don't know without opening or reading them, and never click to accept terms from any company without actually reading the fine print.
Most important, install antivirus and anti-spyware software and keep it up to date.
You can find a lot more information on e-card scams at Ecard Scams: Greetings! A Scammer Has Sent You an Ecard!
When it comes to any type of scam -- at any time of year -- we suggest you trust your instincts. If something doesn't feel right, do more homework or buy from another vendor.
Here's hoping you have a happy and scam-free Christmas season!
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