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'Tis the Season of Scams!

Posted on 12/17/18 by Leah Miller, AARP Blog Author

As we enter the holiday season, once again it pays to be vigilant to avoid scams or slip-ups that could put a damper on your celebrations. Here are some of the ways you can keep your holidays happy:

Watch out for deals.  Be wary of those too-good-to-be-true deals, especially those that show up as links on your social media feeds. Check out reviews, search the retailer’s name with “scam” to see what comes up, and if it’s a retailer you already know and frequent online, go directly to the website rather than clicking on a link. Always study links carefully – often they don’t go to the site you think they should.

Beware of 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. That way you are liable for only up to $50 of fraudulent use. Your financial loss with a stolen debit card could be much higher.

Sign for  package deliveries. Watch out for phishing scams claiming to be from UPS, FedEx and the US Postal Service asking you to click a link to solve a delivery issue. Also, indicate a safe place for a delivery company to leave packages or require a delivery signature upon receipt, so packages won’t be left outside for a thief to grab.

Be mindful when applying for temporary holiday jobs. Bogus online job applications for holiday help ask for personally identifiable information, specifically your Social Security number. Don’t share your personal information with anyone unless you absolutely have to, and don’t provide it until you confirm you are dealing with a real organization looking for employees. If you see a seasonal job in the newspaper and are suspicious, look up the company’s phone number online and call that number, rather than the one in the ad.  

Use caution when buying gift cards. Thieves can hit store gift card racks, secretly write down or scan the numbers on the cards, then check online to see if someone has bought the cards and activated them. 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.  Safely purchase gift cards directly from the store clerk – and ask them to scan the card to make sure it has the correct value.

Be cautious of charity scams. Legitimate charities make a big push at the end of the year for last minute annual donations. Scammers know this, and make their own end-of-year push to line their own pockets. Check out a charity before donating at charitynavigator.org or give.org to make sure your donation is going to a charity that is really using your money for good.

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

When it comes to fraud, vigilance is our number one weapon. You can join the Fraud Watch Network and receive alerts about scams like these happening in South Dakota. Any one of any age can join for free by visiting aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork or to receive Fraud Watch Network alerts by phone, call 1-866-542-8172.

You have the power to protect yourself and your loved ones from scams. Please share this alert with family and friends, so you can all enjoy a safe and happy holiday season!

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