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Stay safe from scams this holiday season

With the holiday season in full swing, it’s important for all consumers to remain vigilant while shopping online.

Three-quarters of customers in the United States have experienced or have been targeted by at least one form of fraud connected to the holidays, according to the latest AARP Fraud Watch Network report. These forms of fraud can appear as requests from (often fake) charities, online shopping scams and false communications related to shipping issues.

Many of these scams are extensions from common, everyday scams; however, during the holiday season, there appears to be a spike in the number of reported cases of fraud, especially related to online shopping, according to the report. 

So as deals begin appearing online from retailers, scammers attempt to fool shoppers looking for bargains by creating fake websites and social media campaigns posing as major brands. Consumers may not only be at risk of purchasing items that never arrive, but also may give away sensitive data — such as credit card numbers — to scammers who may use the information to commit identity theft or to sell on the dark web.

Other scams consumers should be on the lookout for include:

  • Emails or texts that include attachments claiming to include coupon offers or “order confirmation” information. Do not open attachments from text messages coming from 11-digit unidentified numbers or anything claiming to offer raffle prizes.
  • Did you know one-third of all charitable giving is done during the month of December? Sadly, scammers have taken advantage of this information and have created fake websites, recruited pushy telemarketers and even in some cases began door-to-door solicitation. Signs to look for include: pressure to donate immediately, receiving a note saying thank-you for a donation you don’t recall making, a request to donate by cash, gift card or wire transfer. If you are unsure about the legitimacy of a charity contacting you, use resources like Charity Navigator or Charity Watch.
  • Be wary of unsolicited phone or electronic communications from delivery services. Receiving emails or texts from what appears to be UPS, FedEx or the U.S. Postal Service about incoming or missed deliveries. These links can actually be fake sign-in pages to harvest personal information or to sites infected with malware. 
  • That email offering free flights is most likely too good to be true. These messages try to lure people into providing personal information. Also be wary of bogus insurance brokers selling travel policies that falsely claim to cover coronavirus-related cancellations, fake vacation listings, or look-a-like websites for airlines or popular travel companies. Always book through official websites and call the hotel or airline after booking to confirm. 
  • Carefully check a website’s URL. Scam sites may use “domain spoofing” tricks, such as an extra letter in the address, while mimicking major travel companies’ branding.    
  • Check for blatant grammar and spelling errors in all forms of communication. 

What other advice would you provide a friend during the holiday season or in general?