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Buyer Beware: AARP Report Warn of Scams Targeting Holiday Shoppers

Report underscores the importance of knowing how to spot a scam this holiday season

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A new AARP report is highlighting the ways criminals may target holiday shoppers this year. Three out of four U.S. consumers have experienced or been targeted by at least one form of fraud that can be tied to the holidays, including end-of-year charitable donation requests (39%), purchasing an item through an online ad (35%) and receiving fake notifications about shipping issues (29%).

To read the full report visit: www.aarp.org/holidayscams2022

“Whether in stores or online, fraud criminals up their game when we up our shopping during the holiday season,” said Kathy Stokes, AARP director of fraud prevention programs. “Unfortunately, scams are an all-too-real truth of the consumer experience today. Knowing the warning signs is an important first step to spotting and avoiding these schemes.”  

To gain insight into consumer awareness of safe shopping practices, survey respondents were asked to answer a series of related questions. Only 22% of respondents were able to correctly answer at least seven of the nine questions, highlighting the need to broadly share safe shopping tips this holiday season. Consumers should know that:  

  • Clicking on online ads or on links from emails and texts is fraught with risk; type the web address of the site you wish to visit into your browser directly.
  • Retailers will never contact you about a “problem” and request your login information.
  • The safest way to use peer-to-peer (P2P) payment services is with trusted contacts.
  • Credit cards have more consumer protections than other forms of payment.
  • Updating your device and antivirus software when prompted is critical to protect against the latest threats (better yet, set up automatic updates).

Holiday shoppers should use caution when making online purchases. Over two-thirds of those surveyed said they shopped online last holiday season, with 21% of total shoppers saying they will go online even more this holiday season. Scammers can purchase online ads that appear to be legitimate retailers, but instead connect to criminals looking to steal sensitive information and money.

P2P payment services are increasing in popularity, with 53% of users saying it is likely they will use one this holiday season, up significantly from 45% in 2021. These apps can provide fraud criminals an opportunity to take money with little to no way for a consumer to get their money back.  

Gift cards continue to be popular with 67% of those surveyed planning to purchase one this holiday season. An increased risk comes with the increased popularity – 26% of respondents said they have given or received a gift card with no balance. Criminals manipulate gift cards on racks and can also use software to look online for activated cards with balances. It may be safest to purchase a gift card directly from the card issuer’s website versus purchasing off a rack at a physical store.

Criminals can also target a shopper’s shipping experience. Nearly a third of those surveyed have experienced a scam in which someone fraudulently claimed to be from USPS, FedEx or UPS. Consumers should connect directly with the retailer or shipping carrier instead of clicking on a link from a text or email claiming a shipping issue has occurred.

End of the year fundraising campaigns sadly open the doors for scammers to line their own pockets. If you plan to donate to a charity this holiday season (or anytime), check how watchdogs like Charity NavigatorCharityWatch and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance rate an organization before you make a donation.   

The AARP Fraud Watch Network is a free resource that equips consumers with up-to-date knowledge to spot and avoid scams, and connects those targeted by scams with our fraud helpline specialists who provide support and guidance on what to do next. Anyone can call the helpline at 877-908-3360. The Fraud Watch Network also offers free, facilitated peer discussion groups that seek to provide emotional support for those experiencing fraud; and advocates at the federal, state, and local levels to enact policy changes that protect consumers and enforce laws.

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