‘Season’s Cheatings:’ AARP Survey Finds Many at Risk from Holiday Scams

Posted on 12/18/19 by Michael Humes

Specific Survey of Connecticut Residents Part of AARP Campaign Raising Awareness of Most Common Seasonal Scams

Consumer fraud schemes escalate each year during the holidays, and a significant number of consumers across the country and in Connecticut are at risk of becoming victimized by common seasonal scams, according to a new “Season’s Cheatings” research report of U.S. adults 18 and older from the AARP Fraud Watch Network. The study explored experiences with purchasing gift cards, shipping and receiving packages, and charitable giving, and tested the knowledge of adults about several specific scams as well.

Nearly 20% of those surveyed failed a simple quiz designed to test their ability to recognize the red flags of holiday scams. In Connecticut, one in five adults failed a five-question quiz about holiday scams, putting them at risk for falling victim to scammers’ tactics.

“This time of year, many of us are busy with holiday preparations and social activities. Scammers hope they can take advantage of these seasonal distractions to convince us to do their nefarious bidding,” said Kathy Stokes, director, fraud prevention programs, AARP. “We’re trying to draw attention to the red flags of seasonal scams, because if you can spot a scam, you can stop a scam.”

An AARP Fraud Watch Network campaign is using advertising, social media postings, website content, webinars, tele-town halls and email alerts to warn consumers about some of the most prevalent holiday scams:

Gift Card Scams
The popularity of gift cards – the AARP survey found that 70% of people plan to give gift cards as holiday presents – make them attractive targets for scammers. The criminals visit stores with gift card racks and surreptitiously record the PIN numbers from the backs of the cards. Once the cards are purchased and activated, the scammer drains the funds. Twenty percent of those surveyed reported that they have given or received a gift card whose balance had already been depleted.

In Connecticut, more than 70% of respondents plan to buy gift cards and 22% report that they have given and/or received a gift card that had no funds on it. The vast majority of Connecticut adults recognize that gift cards are not accepted as a form of payment to settle a debt with the government with 18% believing they are.

AARP recommends carefully examining a gift card for signs of tampering, prior to making the purchase. Even safer options are: buying the cards from stores that keep the rack behind their counter, or via online purchase directly from the retailer.

Package Delivery Scams
AARP’s survey indicates that half of us who ship holiday packages don’t request a signature on delivery. Packages left at front doors is a golden (and easy) opportunity for “porch pirates” to grab them. Over two in five Connecticut adults will send packages to family and friends this holiday season, but 36% never request a signature (which means the package can be left outside for porch pirates to scoop up).

If requesting a delivery signature is not an option, AARP advises that you explore options offered by shipping companies that allow recipients to pick up their packages from a secure location. Or, direct the delivery company to place packages somewhere that makes them harder to see from the street.

Also, be aware of email – or “phishing” – scams related to package deliveries. An email purporting to be from a shipping company about a pending delivery may actually be a scammer’s attempt to obtain sensitive payment information or to install malicious software on your device. One red flag is a generic “Dear Customer” salutation. Hover your mouse over the link you are instructed to click on to address the issue. If the web address does not look like it’s taking you to the actual company’s website, it’s a scam.

Charitable Donation Scams
During the holiday season, many of America’s outstanding charities solicit donations to support their important work. Unfortunately, scammers will try to get in on the action to line their own pockets. One-third of those AARP surveyed said they have received a request for a donation from a group that was likely fraudulent.

AARP’s survey found that only 30% of U.S. adults conduct research on a charity before giving money. But, of those who do, half have decided not to proceed with a donation based on what they learned. More than 1 in 3 Connecticut adults say they received a donation request to a charity or cause that was likely fraudulent. Only 2 in 5 Connecticut adults who received requests for donations checked out the recipient on a charity rating site. Among those who did, half decided not to proceed with the donation.

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. You can also check on what percentage of collected donations actually support the charitable purpose.

For more findings from the AARP survey, see the research report, “Seasons Cheatings: Beware of Holiday Scams,” at www.aarp.org/SeasonsCheatings.

The AARP Fraud Watch Network launched in 2013 as a free resource for people of all ages. Consumers may sign up for “Watchdog Alert” emails that deliver information about scams, or call a free helpline at 877-908-3360 to report scams or get help from trained volunteers in the event someone falls victim to scammers’ tactics. The Fraud Watch Network website provides information about fraud and scams, prevention tips from experts, an interactive scam-tracking map and access to AARP’s hit podcast series, The Perfect Scam.

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Season's Cheatings Survey Results for Connecticut

Survey Methodology
Online survey via NORC’s AmeriSpeak® Panel, a probability-based panel with sample targeting U.S. adults ages 18 and older. AmeriSpeak is designed to be representative of the U.S. household population. Qualifications: Ages 18 or older; goes online or accesses the Internet (e.g., sending or receiving email). Sample: NORC’s AmeriSpeak® Panel, n=2,842 adults ages 18 and over. Interviewing Dates: Nov. 4-15, 2019. Weighting: Sample were weighted to the population by age, gender, race/ethnicity, and Census division. Margin of error: ±2.5 percent at the 95% confidence level. For more detail, see the research report.

This story is provided by AARP Connecticut. Visit the AARP Connecticut page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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