Twelve scams of the season
HARTFORD – Scams never take a holiday. That’s the message the Department of Consumer Protection is sending this month, as it cautions you to stay alert while shopping. Many common scams will be dressed up for the holidays, but their goal of defrauding consumers is the same. Here are a dozen examples of fraudulent and deceptive practices that consumers may encounter:
- Phishy Emails — As more people holiday shop online, the prevalence of clever phishing scams is increasing. Common this year are bogus “shipping notification” emails claiming to be from UPS or FedEx. Don’t click on links inside these unless you recognize merchandise that you have ordered. Watch for emails from retailers you haven’t used, and be careful with “click here” coupons in emails. These could connect you to sites that will load spyware or viruses on your computer.
- Parcel-Waiting — Also somewhat new is a scam in which a consumer receives a postcard at their door saying an unsuccessful attempt was made to deliver a package, and asking the consumer to call a particular number for more details. Callers will get a recorded message or music that keeps them on the line for a while. At some point the consumer may hang up and try again, but each time they call they are secretly being connected to a premium line or overseas service charging exorbitant rates. These charges will show up on the consumer’s next phone bill. Or, the consumer may reach a fake “delivery representative” who asks for personal information that could be used for identity theft, or that will let a burglar know when the house will be unattended. Before responding to a delivery postcard, thoroughly check out the delivery company online to see if it’s a legitimate business. Check that the phone number on your card corresponds to an official number for the company. If the phone number is not local to your area and not a 1-800 number, it may be a premium number scam. Don’t give out personal details over the phone to anyone you don’t know, and don’t ever give specific information about times when no one is home.
- “App-scams” — New mobile apps for Android and iOS devices are added every day. Even the funniest, most festive, innocuous or official-looking app could be malicious and access your personal information. Download apps only from reputable sources.
- Malware greetings — Digital e-cards can spread viruses along with holiday cheer. Well-known e-card sites are safe, but steer clear of potential scams that cause you to download malware onto your device.
- Phony fundraising — ‘Tis the season for giving and also the end of the calendar year. Be wary of fake charities that could reach you via email, regular mail or social media. Check them out at guidestar.org before you donate.
- Credit crush — Unfortunately, a huge data breach caused by hackers is one crime that each and every one of us could fall victim to. Check your credit card and other banking accounts weekly at holiday time. Watch for small, unexplained charges that could indicate that a thief is “testing” your account availability. Stay on top of breaking news to be alert to any new data breaches that may occur.
- Trippy travel scams — With travel on the agenda for many during peak holiday times, scammers are primed to exploit the fact that consumers, in their rush, may be less vigilant about their safety. So watch for fake online travel deals — and don’t click on links you get in unsolicited email travel offers.
- “Official” Robocall Scams — Hackers even use the threat of data breaches as an opportunity to prey on vulnerable consumers. In these cases, consumers receive a fake phone call from an automated (or live) “security agent” claiming to represent the customer’s financial institution. The “agent” tells the consumer that their account has been compromised and asks for personal information including passwords, in order to correct the problem. Don’t provide any information over the phone to calls of this type. Hang up and dial your financial institution directly to verify the existence of any so-called problem.
- ATM Skimming — During the holiday season, you need cash and are usually in a rush to get it. Criminals steal ATM users’ information by installing skimming devices within ATM machines to steal the data off the cards, and then capture customers’ PIN numbers with either a video camera or keypad overlay. Before using any ATM, look carefully at the machine for anything that appears “added on” or suspicious. Also, shield the keypad with your other hand when entering your PIN on any ATM machine.
- Just-in-time “free” money: Unexpected prize checks for contests you never entered are bogus and will include a request for you to deposit the check and forward part of the cash in a MoneyGram or money card somewhere else. If you do this, you will learn within a couple of weeks that your “prize” check bounced, and the money you sent from your own account is gone forever!
- Buying tickets for special holiday events. Special events make for lively holiday entertainment and tickets are popular gifts, so it’s a great opportunity for ticket forgers or bogus ticket sellers to exploit the excitement. Even though you believe you’ve carefully verified an offer on an unknown seller’s site, or one listed on a free online auction or classified ad website, you really can’t be sure it’s fully legit until you or your gift recipient tries to redeem the ticket at the gate. It’s wisest to buy from a reputable ticket reseller, or better yet, from the venue itself.
- Deceptive advertising — Shoppers looking for one-of-a kind-deals during the holidays have to be careful, especially when shopping for in-demand items. Read all terms carefully. If you believe an advertisement is purposely deceptive, you may file a complaint with the Department of Consumer Protection. When online, be alert — outrageous sale offers, phony contests and bogus gift cards are just a few of the ways scammers try to steal personal information. Year-round, if a bargain seems too good to be true, it’s probably not true!