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NEW YORK, New York – And…the last minute gift dash is on. In the hustle, bustle and rush to find the perfect present, New York scam artists are banking on consumers’ carelessness. From gift card gotchas to courier cons, AARP New York warns that holiday scammers work like type A elves, and today the Association is releasing its list of the Top 7 Holiday Scams along with some basic tips to help New Yorkers avoid them.
“Holidays are prime time for New York scammers to prey on unsuspecting consumers – they know that in your last-minute rush, you are less likely to check for all the details that may give their scam away,” said Beth Finkel, State Director for AARP in New York State. “Being able to spot and avoid the scam may be the difference between becoming the next victim and having a happy holiday.”
1. Shopping setups
During the holidays, scammers try to steal money and personal information from unsuspecting shoppers. One popular scheme: rogue websites that appear on your search engine results when you type in the names of hot-selling gifts or even terms such as “discount toys.” Promising deals, the sites instead steal credit card information, passwords and other sensitive data when you click on links infected with malware.
Also, beware of what’s known as cybersquatting, where crooks steal or slightly alter the website address of a well-known company to launch a copycat site that may be a spot-on replica of the real thing. While these sites may have malware, they primarily function to collect your credit card information for the purchase of inferior counterfeit goods — assuming you actually receive the goods.
When shopping online, carefully read website addresses before clicking, to ensure you’re headed to a recognized and legitimate vendor. Once on the site, look for phone numbers and street addresses (versus just email addresses and P.O. box numbers) as signs of legitimate vendors. You can check who owns the website’s address at Whois.net.
2. Gift card gotchas
Taking gift cards from display racks, thieves peel and copy or use a portable scanner to get the code underneath the scratch-off strip. Then they put the cards back on the rack and wait for them to be bought and activated. By dialing the cards’ toll-free numbers, they can find out exactly how much value is on the card. All’s clear now for them to make online purchases or generate cloned copies for in-store use, leaving the intended recipients with worthless cards.
Your best bet: Purchase gift cards from a store’s customer service counter or website, rather than from untended display racks. If you do buy from a display rack, make sure the cashier scans and activates the card in your presence — you don’t want the cashier just pocketing the money. And make sure you get a receipt to give to the gift recipient in case there’s a problem.
3. Courier cons
Beware emails claiming that FedEx, UPS, DHL or the U.S. Postal Service is trying to deliver a package. Unless you provided your email address — unlikely, since many shipping forms don’t ask — you can assume the email is scammer-sent. You’ll likely install malware by clicking on the attached link promising details of the supposed delivery holdup.
Also beware of mailed postcards about “undeliverable” packages. They could be a trick to get you to make an expensive overseas phone call and/or to reveal personal and financial information. Area codes 809, 876 and 284 take you to the Caribbean, a hotbed of scams, where the idea is to make you pay phony fees or simply run up a high long-distance charge that will partially go to the scammers.
When in doubt, look up the courier service’s callback number and dial it. Don’t use the number on the postcard.
4. Greeting card cheating
When e-cards come from an unnamed “friend” or “admirer” — or an unrecognized name — that’s your cue for a quick delete. It’s another tease to click on a malware-likely link. Even e-cards bearing the names of people you know should be suspect; they may be the result of a botnet virus that captured your email address. Legitimate e-card notifications should include a confirmation code to use to safely open the card at the issuing website.
5. The grift that keeps on taking
Mobile apps are an easy way for scammers to gather personal information via malware, so download wisely — and only from reputable vendors. The same applies to “free” holiday-themed screen savers. If you buy or receive computers, smartphones or gaming devices as gifts, learn how to protect them from future malware.
6. Travel scams
Phony offers of accommodations with too-good-to-be-true prices proliferate during the holiday vacation season. Get wise to these lies.
7. Charity cons
Once again, unless you provided your email address to an organization, assume that all email solicitations bearing that charity’s name are scams. Don’t provide credit card information to phone solicitors. Keep a close ear for sound-alike names, such as the National Heart Association instead of the legitimate American Heart Association. Be especially suspicious of heartstring-pulling solicitations to supposedly benefit disabled veterans, police and firefighters, or sick or needy children (those conning causes most often target older donors). When in doubt, check a charity’s legitimacy.
Tips come from AARP’s national fraud expert, Sid Kirchheimer, who writes Scam Alert and covers consumer issues for the AARP Bulletin.
AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, with a membership of more than 37 million, that helps people turn their goals and dreams into real possibilities, strengthens communities and fights for the issues that matter most to families such as healthcare, employment and income security, retirement planning, affordable utilities and protection from financial abuse. We advocate for individuals in the marketplace by selecting products and services of high quality and value to carry the AARP name as well as help our members obtain discounts on a wide range of products, travel, and services. A trusted source for lifestyle tips, news and educational information, AARP produces AARP The Magazine, the world’s largest circulation magazine; AARP Bulletin; www.aarp.org; AARP TV & Radio; AARP Books; and AARP en Español, a Spanish-language website addressing the interests and needs of Hispanics. AARP does not endorse candidates for public office or make contributions to political campaigns or candidates. AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity of AARP that is working to win back opportunity for struggling Americans 50+ by being a force for change on the most serious issues they face today: housing, hunger, income and isolation. AARP has staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Learn more at www.aarp.org.