As we enter the holiday season, once again it pays to be vigilant to avoid scams or slip-ups that could put a damper on your celebrations. Here are some ways to keep your holidays happy.
Watch out for deals. Be wary of those too-good-to-be-true deals, especially those that show up as links on your social media feeds. Check out reviews, search the retailer’s name with “scam” to see what comes up, and if it’s a retailer you already know and frequent online, go directly to the website rather than clicking on a link. And study links carefully. Often they don’t go to the site you think they would.
Public Wi-Fi risks. Making purchases online while on public Wi-Fi is dangerous. Only shop on public Wi-Fi if you have a “Virtual Private Network” on your device and it is turned on. When you do shop online, stick with credit cards. You are liable for only up to $50 of fraudulent use, but your financial loss with a stolen debit card could be much higher.
Sign for those package deliveries. Watch out for phishing scams claiming to be from UPS, FedEx and the US Postal Service asking you to click a link to solve a delivery issue. Require a delivery signature so packages aren’t left outside for a thief to grab, or indicate a safe place for the delivery company to leave packages.
Be mindful when applying for temporary holiday jobs. Bogus online job applications for holiday help ask for personally identifiable information, especially your Social Security number. Don’t share your number with anyone unless you absolutely have to, and never provide it until you confirm you are dealing with a real organization looking for employees. And if you see a seasonal job in the newspaper, and are suspicious, look up the company’s phone number online and call that number, rather than the one in the ad.
Use caution when buying gift cards. Thieves can hit store gift card racks, secretly write down or scan the numbers off the cards, then check online or call the toll-free number to see if someone has bought the cards and activated them. As soon as a card is active, the scammers drain the funds. By the time your gift recipient tries to use the card, the money is long gone. Safely purchase gift cards directly from the store clerk – and ask them to scan the card to make sure it has the correct value.
Charity scams. Legitimate charities make a big push at year-end for last minute annual donations. Scammers know this, and make their own end-of-year push to line their own pockets. Check the charity before donating at charitynavigator.org or give.org, and make sure your donation is going to the charities that really are using your money for good.
Romance scams. A perennial scam, the romance scam heats up around the holidays. Watch for people you meet on dating sites who quickly want to take your conversation offline, who may resist talking on the phone, who say they are abroad and can’t meet you in person, and eventually ask for money – to buy a plane ticket to come see you, or to help with a business venture, for example. Online dating can be fun and exciting – but beware of those who have money, and not love, on their minds.