Holidays are a busy time for all of us, including the scammers and fraudsters working overtime right now to cheat you out of your money, even your identity. Here are types of holiday scams to watch out for.
We couldn’t deliver your package: I’ve been getting emails from senders with names like FedEx SmartPost and FedEx 2Day A.M. But checking the sender’s address shows me that one came from a website based in Romania, and the other came from something with the word diesel in its URL.
- Bottom line: Check the sender before clicking the link. If in doubt about a package delivery, contact FedEx, UPS, even the U.S. Postal Service directly. Do not click the link.
Letter from Santa: Another offer I got recently, also from a .ro (Romania) website, offered me something my “child will never forget.” Like how stupid Mommy was to click that link and wipe out my child’s inheritance. Be especially wary of any email or website claiming to be the “official” letter from Santa site unless it’s from the United States Postal Service, and the post office’s letter from Santa program is all done via snail mail.
- Bottom line: Check the sender before clicking the link. Even the free Letters from Santa websites you find via an Internet search will require your email address, maybe even ask for access to your Facebook or Twitter address book, and put you on mailing lists you don’t want.
Update your billing: Why on earth would a sender named “manisasehzadelermehteri” tell me my credit card for Netflix is out of date. This is an obvious scam, since this email was sent to an address I don’t use for Netflix.
- Bottom line: Remember which email addresses you use for banking and online purchases, so you can recognize a scammer or phishing fraud sending to the wrong one. You might even want to set up a special address for holiday purchases to use now and discard when 2014 turns into 2015
Fake apps: Beware of apps that appear to be from your favorite stores but actually are designed to steal your credit card information. Many bad iPhone apps made it past Apple’s vetting process, though some have been withdrawn since The New York Times drew attention to the fake apps.
- Bottom line: Before you download an app, check the publisher to make sure the app is what it says it is. Beware of apps with English, lack of reviews and no previous versions. Before you download an app from the Apple store, check the store’s website to make sure it actually has an app.
Toll-free numbers that aren’t free: The bad guys often redirect you to a 900 number based overseas that can cost you $2 a minute or more. The scams are often from a caller offering to reduce your credit card interest payment or to resolve some legal dispute you didn’t know you had.
- Bottom line: Never dial a prompt for “more information” or “shop now” from a caller, especially if it is a pre-recorded voice. The National Consumers League fraud prevention website recommends you can protect yourself year-round by asking your phone company to block outgoing 900 numbers from your phone.
Online shopping: Even though you are too busy to drive to the mall (or in my case, take the subway), don’t be too busy to shop on a secure website that encrypts your personal information, such as your address and credit card number.
- Bottom line: look for https at the beginning of the web address (the “s” is for secure). Some websites use encryption only on the sign-in page, but the Federal Trade Commission advises that if any part of your session is not encrypted, the entire account could be vulnerable. Look for https on every page of the site you’re on, not just where you sign in.
Charitable giving: This is the season for giving, especially to charities involving children. But don’t allow your goodwill to get you get ripped off. Beware of callers claiming to represent a charity and asking for credit card information over the phone. I make it a policy of refusing to give to a charity that wastes donation dollars by sending me unwanted and unsolicited little bribes such as personalized return mail stickers or notepads.
- Bottom line: Before you give, check out the charity’s rating with one of the charity rating services. My go-to guys are Charity Navigator and Charity Watch, both of which rate an organization based on how much of donor money actually goes to programs and how much pays for fundraising and office salaries.
You’ll have a happier holiday if you avoid the bad guys.