How to Avoid Getting Scammed During the Holidays & What to do If You Fall Victim
Although they work year-round, scammers tend to put in overtime during the holiday season. Being scammed can often mean losing money that can’t be recovered—or worse, having your identity stolen. It’s a devastating and time-consuming misfortune to experience. But you can help protect yourself by knowing what scams are common during the holidays, and how to verify legitimate businesses.
Holiday Scams to Watch Out For
Charitable giving increases during the holidays as people look to give back or hope to save on taxes—and scammers are ready to take advantage. Charity scams can take place online and even over the phone. According to the FTC, scammers will rush people into making a donation, or trick them by thanking them for a donation they never paid for and then asking for payment. They will also use vague and sentimental claims while asking for a donation but won’t detail how they’ll donate your money. Always research any charity before you donate (Charity Navigator rates charities by transparency, accountability and financial health) and never give money by gift card, cryptocurrency, or wire transfer.
Package Delivery Scams
Most of us are used to tracking our packages online or through text messages—new habits which scammers are using to their advantage. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) warns of delivery notification scam calls and texts. These text messages and calls look like they’re from a legitimate mail or package courier, such as the U.S. Postal Service, and include a fake tracking link. The link will lead you to a website to enter personal information, or it will install malware, a software designed to gain unauthorized access, on your phone or computer. The malware will then start stealing your information. Package delivery scams can also take the form of voicemail messages prompting you to call back to receive your delivery; the call can result in high connection fees and expensive per-minute rates. The FCC says these numbers can start with an 809 area code or other 10-digit international numbers. These scams may also request money in return to deliver a package, such as a customs fee or tax. If you receive a message about an unexpected package delivery, or delay in delivery, always be cautious before moving forward. You can identify harmful links by checking to see if there are any misspelled words, such as “fedx.com.” When in doubt, contact the courier directly for accurate information about your deliveries.
Fake Gift Exchanges
Gift exchanges are popular during the holidays in workplaces and among families and friends. But when you see one pop up on your social media feeds, you should know it’s probably a scam. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns of the “Secret Sister” gift exchange that emerges on social media each holiday season. It promises participants they’ll receive up to 36 gifts in exchange for sending one gift, such as a bottle of wine or purchasing a $10 gift online. To participate, it asks you to provide your name, address and information about your friends. While it may sound fun to exchange gifts and “pay it forward” to strangers, the BBB warns that this is an illegal pyramid scheme in disguise.
“…You give away your personal information, and you’re left with buying and shipping gifts or money to unknown individuals, in hopes that the favor is reciprocated by receiving the promised number of gifts in return,” writes the BBB. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen.” Not only will you likely not receive any gifts in return, but the schemers will sometimes use the personal information you provided to put you on other scam lists, or worse—commit identity theft. The BBB advises people to report social media posts for these gift exchanges if they see them in their feeds.
3 Steps to Take If You Think You’ve Been Scammed
Realizing you’ve fallen victim to a scam can be overwhelming. You might experience feelings of guilt or shame for falling into the scammer’s trap. What’s most important is that you take action quickly to remedy the situation.
- Contact your bank immediately. If you wired a fake business money, or paid with a credit or debit card, contact your bank immediately and explain that you’ve been a victim of fraud. Ask for the transaction to be canceled and for your money back. In some cases, the payment may have already gone through, and it’ll be too late to stop it—but according to the National Consumer Law Center, consumers can still dispute the payment after the fact to try and get their money back.
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Filing a complaint with the FTC about the scam could help protect others from falling victim to the same practices. After filling out a report, the FTC will also provide you with next steps on how to protect yourself, such as potential ways to get your money back.
- Freeze your credit reports. If your identifying information has been stolen as part of a scam, you’ll want to freeze your credit reports Doing so is free, and potential creditors won’t be able to access information required to approve new credit applications, which will help prevent scammers from opening accounts in your name.
Practice good cybersecurity hygiene
- Don’t click any suspicious links or attachments in emails, on websites, or on social media. These phishing scams are normally disguised as a “holiday deal” to get you to click on links and give up personal information like your name, password, and bank account number. In some cases, you may unknowingly download malware to your device.
- Be especially wary if a company asks you to update your password or account information. Look up the company’s phone number on your own and call the company.
- Check each website’s URL to make sure it’s legitimate and secure. A site you’re buying from should have https in the web address. If it doesn’t, don’t enter your information on that site.
- Verify the legitimacy of a buyer or seller before moving forward with a purchase. If you’re using an online marketplace or auction website, check their feedback rating. Be wary of buyers and sellers with mostly unfavorable feedback ratings or no ratings at all.
- Be wary of sellers who post an auction or advertisement as if they reside in the U.S., then respond to questions by stating they are out of the country on business, family emergency, or similar reasons.
- Use a credit card when shopping online and check your statement regularly. If you see a suspicious transaction, contact your credit card company to dispute the charge.
- Always get tracking numbers for items you buy online, so you can make sure they have been shipped and can follow the delivery process.
Know Who to Contact
Remember – if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Always make sure you verify the legitimacy of a company; perpetrators know how to make their scams look genuine. They’ll adapt common things, such as local area codes or email addresses, to look recognizable enough to trick people into thinking they’re legitimate. If you’re ever unsure of who might be contacting you, or where you’re sending money to, use these resources to verify the business or charity, or cross-check it with other scams:
- The Better Business Bureau (BBB) – The BBB has an entire database that keeps track of scams. You can search via business or charity name, keyword or scam type. The BBB is also a great resource to verify if a business is legitimate by searching the business name on its homepage. You’ll be able to find BBB-accredited and non-accredited businesses and their rating.
- The FTC – The FTC’s scam alert page is regularly updated with blog posts about current scams. You can also enroll in email updates to stay in-the-know about scams.
- Charity Navigator – This nonprofit evaluates charities based on their financial health, accountability, and transparency. It also provides information about how donations are used, so you can know exactly how your money will make an impact.