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Tidings of the Season

 Faith. Joy. Peace. Family and friends. Fraudsters.

Holiday time brings with it the blessings of the season. It also brings a proliferation of scams, some of which are described below. The media and government agencies including the FTC are urging consumers to be cautious when sharing information online and to take precautions to avoid common frauds that increase during the holidays.

Fake charities reach out online and by phone this time of year to take advantage of goodwill (and the rush to obtain year-end tax deductions). Confirm the legitimacy of any charity before donating. Don’t donate through a link or by providing your financial information in response to a call. Instead, support charities through their official websites or by initiating a call.

Phishing, a type of email fraud, attempts to obtain your personal or financial information through an email that appears to come from a legitimate business like a bank, PayPal, eBay.  The fraudulent mail will contain a message urging you to click on a link to provide information or conduct or confirm a transaction. Seasonal phishing attempts include asking for your or your child’s sensitive info to send a letter from “Santa.”

Exercise caution, including with messages that appear trustworthy. A legitimate business will never request sensitive info by email. Never click on a link in an email you are unsure about, even if you do not intend to transmit personal information. You could end up downloading malware.

Holiday e-cards can also be scary. They can contain viruses and other malware. Before you open an e-card from a friend, check that your friend is the one who sent it.

Fraudulent websites abound at holiday time amid the increase in online commerce; this pandemic year has seen an almost 50% increase from last year.  According to a recent survey, over 70% of shoppers are shopping online.

To avoid having your personal information and financial accounts stolen, use reputable sites. Those offering sales too good to be true are likely scams. If you’re going to place an order, type the site’s address into your browser (don’t get to it through a link), then check the address carefully: typosquatters take advantage of our typos to get us to unknowingly land on their scam sites and transmit financial information to them. Consider paying by PayPal or a reputable credit card to take advantage of their protections if something goes wrong.

Gift cards are a popular gift option. If you purchase one at a store, check that the card’s activation code isn’t exposed; if it is a thief could have stolen the number with intention to use the card when it is bought and activated. (It may be safer to buy a gift card online through a merchant’s website.) Check also for any fees the card may have, such as for non-use, which can eat away at the value of the gift until it reaches $0, and that the card hasn’t expired. 

Take steps when sending a gift to ensure the delivery service doesn’t leave it on a doorstep to be stolen. Alert the recipient that a gift is coming or ask them beforehand where they’d like it sent so that it arrives securely. Consider using a shipping method that requires the recipient’s signature.

Have a happy and fraud-free holiday season!


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