MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — We look at scams affecting seniors and others during the holday season. Evey Owen with AARP Alabama joins us. Here’s a look at our conversation.
Why are the Holidays such a target for scammers?
Scammers know a few things about us during the holiday season: we’re busy, and maybe a little stressed, and we tend to be in a charitable frame of mind. So they’ll take advantage of our lack of focus as well as our desire to help those in need to steal our money or our personal information.
Since most holiday shopping is done online these days how can people protect themselves?
Online “spoofed” retail sites are common during the holiday season as 60% of consumers take to the internet to buy holiday gifts. As real retailers roll out their seasonal deals, scammers seek to snare shoppers with bogus websites and, increasingly, social media campaigns that impersonate major brands, especially in fashion, tech and sporting goods.
These “spoofing” sites and fake posts entice you to spend money for products you’ll never receive and many are vehicles for harvesting credit card numbers and other personal data that fraudsters use to commit identity theft or sell on the dark web.
Huge discounts on hot gift items, especially when touted on social media posts are a big red flag. Spelling errors or shoddy grammar on unfamiliar sites should also raise suspicion. Before completing your purchases, research unfamiliar sites online by searching for their names with terms like “scam,” “complaints” or “reviews,” and look them up on evaluation and information sites like the Better Business Bureau.
Also, always double-check the URL to make sure it’s a legitimate site and don’t conduct financial transactions unless the URL begins with “https://.”
What role do Gift Cards play in Holiday Scams and what do people need to look out for?
Frauds involving gift cards — the No. 1 item on holiday wish lists — also shift into high gear during the holidays. Most commonly, thieves go in to stores, sneakily scratch off the film strip on the back of gift cards, record the PIN number and then cover it back up. The card numbers and PINs are entered into a computer program that repeatedly checks the retailer’s website. When someone buys and loads the compromised card, the scammer is notified and can spend or transfer the money on the card before the gift recipient has a chance to use it.
Fraudsters also lurk on resale or auction websites where they will ask you to pay with a gift card once you are interested in an item. As soon as they get the card number and PIN, they vanish, and so does the money on the card.
Before you purchase gift cards, check the back of the card to make sure the strip over the activation code is intact. Don’t buy the first card on the rack as they are the top target for impatient scammers. Lastly, register your gift card with the retailer if it is an option. This will make it easier to report misuse if it occurs. Your safest bet is to buy gift cards that are stored safely behind the counter or purchase them online directly from the retailer.
Where can people find more information to stay safe this holiday season?
YOU have the power to protect yourself! Start by visiting the AARP Fraud Watch Network at aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork – it’s a free resource for everyone, where you will find: information about the latest scams, a scam-tracking map, and sign up for our biweekly Watchdog Alerts.
Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline to report a scam or for victim assistance: 1-866-908-3360