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Holidays are for giving…and for some, taking

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The holidays are a time for togetherness, celebration, and giving. Unfortunately, scammers take advantage of the season to give gifts to themselves, using your money to pay for it. In fact, a new AARP study shows that the entire gift-giving process, from purchasing the perfect gift to making sure it gets to the recipient, offers a number of opportunities for scammers to get in on the act for their own benefit.

Online Shopping Scams

AARP’s new survey on holiday scams found that 35% of US adults have experienced fraud when buying a product through an online ad.

Spot a Scam

  • Scammers will offer incredible deals for all the items on your holiday shopping list. But clicking the link provided may take you to a fake retail website that may be a convincing copy of a legitimate site, or to an entirely made-up site.
  • You may end up buying something that never arrives (or what arrives is a low-cost version of what you were expecting).
  • Or, worse, your visit to the fake site could enable the crooks to download malicious software to your device, allowing them to steal logins and passwords, even to financial accounts.

Stop a Scam

  • If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • If you’ve never heard of a company before, check it out:
    • Type the company name into a web browser with the words “complaint, scam, fraud” and see if anything negative comes up
    • Look for spelling errors, unprofessional website design, limited contact options, or unusual web addresses
  • Avoid clicking on links even if you think the message or the ad is from a familiar retailer – instead, go to your web browser and type the web address you know to be the right one to avoid getting sent to a cloned site.

Drained Gift Card Scams

AARP’s holiday scams survey found that 21% of US adults have given or received a gift card with no value on it.

Spot a Scam

  • Criminals go to stores and secretly scratch off the film strip on the back of gift cards on the rack to get the PIN, which they cover back up with easy-to-obtain replacement stickers.
  • The scammer enters the card numbers and PINs into a computer program that notifies them when someone buys and loads the compromised cards.
  • The criminals can drain the value from the cards almost instantly, with the buyer – and eventual gift recipient, none the wiser.

Stop a Scam

  • Purchase gift cards online directly from the retailer so thieves can’t tamper with them. Just make sure to visit the website directly and not through a link from an ad or email.
  • If you do intend to purchase gift cards at a brick-and-mortar store, make sure to inspect them for any evidence of damage or tampering.
  • Keep the purchase and activation receipts in the event you find no value on the card. You may not have any recourse, but at least with the receipts, you have a shot.

Package Delivery Scams

The AARP survey shows 25% of US adults have had a package stolen from outside their home, and 34% have received a fake notification about a shipment!

Spot a Scam

  • Porch pirates are criminals who look for the opportunity to steal packages from people’s front doors -- they are out in force over the busy holiday season.
  • Scammers will also claim to be shipping carriers (FedEx, UPS, etc.). They’ll send fake notifications saying there’s a problem with a shipment and you need to contact them. But there’s no shipment coming, and all they want is for you to respond and provide money or personal information.

Stop a Scam

  • Rather than have packages delivered to your front door, check with the shipper, and find out if packages can he held at their location until you are notified. Or, direct the carrier to place your packages in a specific location that would be hard to see from the road.
  • With respect to fake notifications from carriers, a big red flag is you haven’t ordered anything and aren’t expecting a package. Additional red flags are demands for payment or high-pressure or “urgent” messages asking for personal information.

Knowledge gives you power over scams. The AARP Fraud Watch Network equips you with reliable, up-to-date insights and connects you to our free fraud helpline, so you can better protect yourself and loved ones. We also advocate at the state, federal and local levels to enact policy changes that protect consumers and enforce laws.
When it comes to fraud, vigilance is our number one weapon. You have the power to protect yourself and your loved ones from scams. Please share this information with friends and family.

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