Old Scrooge may have been right to snarl “Bah, humbug!” when reminded of the Holiday season. Along with the songs and the lights and the gifts, there are also swindles, hoaxes, ripoffs, and flimflam. People want to open their hearts and their wallets during this special time of year -- but unless they are cautious and discerning, they are opening themselves up for nothing but a snow job! The con artists are out in force right now, and they’re more clever and sophisticated than ever before.
Here are some scams to watch out for this time of year:
The gift card pyramid scheme
This is big on social media. They’re calling it the ‘Secret Sister Exchange’. Buy a ten dollar gift certificate, send it to a ‘sister’ on the list, and you’ll get back five gift cards, each worth ten dollars. Yeah, right.
The check in the mail
Who doesn’t like getting a check in the mail? But this one comes with a lot of fine print. It can only be spent at one particular store, and, once you get there, you find that you have to buy something like $49 worth of merchandise before you can cash your $10 check for anything. The beautiful part is that most people who fall for this scheme feel so embarrassed about being scammed that they go ahead and buy $49 worth of stuff! The old adage is still true: If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably not true.
Buy cards for your favorite cause
Phone solicitors love this one. They call you on behalf of a local charity, offering a dozen beautifully hand-crafted cards that read “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” or “Feliz Navidad”. All proceeds go to the Food Shelf or Homeless Shelter or Toys for Tots, etc. Of course, when they ask for payment over the phone most people immediately tell them where to go -- and it ain’t the North Pole. But this is a numbers game. Call enough people and eventually you find someone gullible enough to fall for this. Needless to say; the victim never gets any cards, and usually their payment information is sold to a scamming list.
This is an oldie but goodie. Con artists call elderly people and claim to be their grandson/grand daughter traveling for the Holidays on their trusty rented houseboat somewhere, suddenly stranded without money somewhere like Kalamazoo, Michigan, or Watford City, North Dakota. Send funds via Western Union, they plead, so they can get home for Christmas. When they latch on to a senior citizen who is confused and forgetful, they fraud them for all they’re worth. To prevent this from happening, stay in contact with older members of the family and make sure they know that no one is going to call them out of the blue asking for money for holiday traveling.
You should already know better than to open emails from unknown persons and organizations. This is doubly important during the hectic shopping season we are now in. Exchanging sensitive data securely is a 2017 challenge. Hackers are becoming more and more creative at intercepting your credentials and files shared through emails. If it’s a charity or a store you don’t recognize, delete it immediately. If it looks vaguely familiar, take an extra moment to check the subject line for anomalies and misspellings before you open it. Remember, legitimate businesses and charities should be able to spell your name right!