At this busy time of year, you need to be especially vigilant to avoid bogus websites, fake emails, or phone calls that fraudsters set up to take advantage of you or otherwise steal your holiday cheer. Here are three holiday shopping scams you may encounter and commonsense ways to keep your guard up:
The Scam: Shipping Confirmation Ploy
In this holiday scam, you get an email or phone call from someone claiming to be from the U.S. Postal Service or a major shipping company. You’re told that you have a package waiting for delivery or that someone else received a package that was intended for you. In order to make sure you are the correct recipient, you’re asked to provide personal information, including your name, address, date of birth, and Social Security number.
The Fix: The U.S. Postal Service says it does not call or email people requesting such information. If there’s a problem with a postal delivery or a need to verify, a USPS carrier will attempt to visit a location in person.
Crooks ask for personal data because they can use it— along with other data out there that’s been collected about you—to apply for credit in your name.
If a request for personal information comes in over the phone, don’t be swayed to respond even if your caller ID displays a number that looks like it originates from the USPS, warns the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. If it comes in via email, don’t click on any links or open any attachments— they could cause malware to automatically be installed on your computer that could steal additional personal information.
If you believe there’s a package waiting for you, use the shipper’s online tracker, which requires an order or reference number, to try to find out where it is. Or search for a phone number or email address to contact the shipper directly.
The Scam: Fake Retail Site
You come across the item you want at a super-low price being sold at a website you’ve never heard of. To make the purchase, you need to input your credit card number.
The Fix: Don’t buy until you’ve researched the site, advises Katherine Hutt, spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau. You may be giving your card number to a scammer, who could use it to make purchases or sell it to other scammers. Or you may be shopping one of many websites, often overseas, that sell counterfeit merchandise, Hutt says. These include bogus sporting goods, fake Gucci handbags, and phony Rolex watches, often at ridiculously low prices.
You should always be suspicious of prices that are unusually low and of online retailers that don’t provide an address and telephone number.
Protect yourself from this and other holiday scams by looking up the seller at the Better Business Bureau. Also do a web search of the company’s name and such terms as “reviews” and “complaints” to see what others have to say.
If you see unauthorized charges on your credit or debit card, contact your card issuer immediately to have them removed and to obtain a new card number.
The Scam: Classified Ad Come-On
You find the perfect gift, but it’s not being sold in a store. Instead, it’s listed in a classified ad on a site such as Backpage or Craigslist. To buy it, the vendor says you should make a wire transfer, use an online escrow service, or pay through Venmo. But after you place your order, the item never arrives. Your emails to the seller go unanswered.
The Fix: Don’t send money to people you don’t know. The person who placed the classified ad could be a scammer, perhaps located overseas beyond the easy reach of U.S. authorities, warns the Minnesota attorney general.
If you want to make a purchase based on a classified ad, Craigslist suggests that you deal only with local sellers whom you can meet in person. It’s probably also a good idea to meet in a public place, and you could check with your local police department to see whether your town has set up a monitored safe zone where people can complete such transactions, advises the Minnesota attorney general.
The above was first reported in 2017 by Consumer Reports.