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There’s Nothing Festive About Fraud

toy truck with a present on the back

The holidays are here, but unfortunately so are the con-artists looking for opportunities to spoil your celebrations. They are more than willing to use the joyous mood to get into your wallet. But with a little preparation and vigilance, you can cut down on the threat of becoming a scam victim.

Charity scams

Legitimate charities make a big push at year-end for last minute annual donations. Scammers know this and make their own end-of-year push to line their own pockets. Before making a donation, experts recommend using charity-rating sites such as Give.org or CharityNavigator.org to make sure the solicitation is from a legitimate organization. Also check with the Secretary of State’s Office (www.sos.wa.gov/givesmart or toll-free 1-800-332-4483) to make sure the charity is registered with the state.

Package delivery scams

Thieves send fake e-mails from delivery services about a package being held pending delivery. The e-mail directs you to click on a link that asks for your credit card or other personal information. Closely review the e-mail—check the sender information, look for misspellings, and hover over the link with your mouse to see if it is really taking you to the delivery service’s website. Also, request signatures for deliveries to stop thieves from stealing packages from doorsteps.

“Too-good-to-be-true” online deals

Online ads, e-mails, social media posts—event from people you “know”—of impossibly good online deals could be scams. You might get nothing for your money or an inferior item, and your credit card number could be compromised during the transaction. A too-good-to-be-true deal should send up a red flag.

Public wi-fi risks

Making purchases online while on public wi-fi is dangerous. Only shop on public wi-fi if you have a “Virtual Private Network” on your device and it is turned on. When you do shop online, stick with credit cards. You are liable for only up to $50 of fraudulent use but your financial loss with a stolen debit card could be much higher.

Gift cards scams

Thieves can hit store gift card racks, scan the numbers off the cards, then check online or call the toll-free number to see if someone has bought and activated the cards. As soon as a card is active, the scammers drain the funds. By the time your gift recipient tries to use the card, the money is long gone. Before purchasing a gift card, be sure to check the back to make sure the activation code hasn’t already been revealed. Also consider skipping the large gift card racks in grocery and big box stores. Purchase them directly from the store clerk or buy them online.

Romance scams

A perennial “romance” scam often heats up around the holidays. Watch for people you meet on dating sites who quickly want to take your conversation offline, who may resist talking on the phone, who say they are abroad and can’t meet you in person, and eventually ask for money—to buy a plane ticket to come see you or to help with a business venture, for example. Online dating can be fun and exciting, but beware of those who have money, and not love, on their minds.

Visit www.aarp.org/frc for additional tips on avoiding these and other scams and fraud.


Contributor Jason Erskine directs communications at AARP Washington. For more information about scams and fraud schemes, visit www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud.

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