The Grinch is not just a Dr. Seuss creation, as many real-life scammers want to steal the holidays away.
According to the AARP, consumer fraud schemes escalate each year during the holidays. N new research report, “Seasons Cheatings,” from the AARP Fraud Watch Network finds a significant number of consumers are at risk of becoming victimized by common seasonal scams.
Nearly 20% of those surveyed failed a simple quiz designed to test their ability to recognize the red flags of holiday scams.
“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 of fraud prevention programs for 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 warns of some of the most prevalent holiday scams:
Gift Card Scams
The popularity of gift cards – the AARP survey found 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 they unknowingly gave or received a gift card with an already depleted balance.
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 with racks behind the counter, or via online purchase directly from the retailer.
Package Delivery Scams
AARP’s survey indicates half of us who ship holiday packages don’t request a signature on delivery. When packages are left at front doors, it is a golden (and easy) opportunity for “porch pirates” to grab them.
If requesting a delivery signature is not an option, AARP advises you to explore options offered by shipping companies allowing 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.
Use your mouse to hover 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 received a request for a donation from a group likely to be fraudulent.
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.
AARP’s survey found 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.
For more findings from the AARP survey, see the research report, “Seasons Cheatings: Beware of Holiday Scams” at aarp.org/SeasonsCheatings.