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November and December are filled with holidays, which also often means increased shopping. In the U.S., people plan to spend nearly $1,000 on Christmas gifts, food and decorations. But the cost of the holidays could be much more for some, especially if you’ve been targeted by a fraudster looking to make a quick buck off of you during the holiday season.

Check out these common holiday scams and the ways you can protect yourself.

The scams

  • Charity scams: Capitalizing on people feeling more giving this time of year, fraudsters develop fake charities or online fundraisers. Charities that look similar or use look-alike logos or names with one character off are common, as well as small “nonprofits” no one has heard of and that lacks a physical location or contact information. Double-check posts shared by your friends and family on social media, Just because someone you know shared it doesn’t mean it’s a legitimate cause or fundraiser.
  • Gift card scams: Popular during the holiday season and any time, gift card scams take advantage of the “fear” emotion by saying the payment is urgent and needs to be made immediately and through a gift card. The scams can range from arrest warrants to a family member in trouble in another country, as well as “companies” requesting purchases with a pre-paid gift card or debit card (which is typically a sign the company is not legitimate and that you will never receive the products you ordered).
  • Online purchases that never arrive: As you are scrolling online you may see an ad for something you were either just thinking about (do phones come with mind readers now?) or maybe something you didn’t even realize you had a need for. If the product or company is something you’ve never heard of before, take extra caution. Sometimes products sold only through online ads (and not available in stores or through major online retailers) are a sign that your online purchase will never be shipped.
  • Online auctions: Auctions work on the premise that you can score a great deal, but you have to act quickly. And, with many auction sites, your purchase is final and no refunds are given. If you are participating in an online auction for the first time, make sure you know who is running the auction and follow the FBI’s recommendations for participating in online auctions. Consider donating funds separately if you want to support the cause but aren’t sure about the auction.
  • Fake shipping confirmation emails and text messages. These emails and text messages aim to gather your personal information and look very similar to the real deal. Be aware of the shipping process for your purchases and when in doubt, log into your account with that retailer to check the status rather than clicking through the email, especially if you don’t remember ordering something.
  • Package theft: As online purchases increase, so do thefts from people’s doorsteps. If you have deliveries arriving when you won’t be home, provide specific delivery instructions so your deliveries won’t be in view of people passing by your house, or consider using a nearby delivery locker instead.
  • Free, you just pay for shipping: If something is offered for free, whether it is a popular game, phone or even a cruise but you just need to pay for shipping or fees/taxes, run the other way! Often, this is a scammer looking to gather your credit card or personal information and then you will never hear from them again.

What to do—7 tips to stay safe from holiday scams

  1. Say goodbye to “Midwest Nice” for a bit. While it may feel counter to your personality or upbringing, when it comes to robo calls, unexpected and unknown visitors to your residence, text messages with links, etc. it’s OK to give them the silent treatment. Ignore suspicious emails, recycle letters that are phishing for information, shut the door on unwanted visitors at your house, hang up on phone calls and delete suspicious text messages.
  2. Put your FOMO in the back seat. The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is an emotion that marketers tap into for sales, and it’s also something that fraudsters try to use to take advantage of you. Don’t agree to an offer or take action right away. Take time to do your research and ask for advice if it involves a significant amount of money, time or commitment. Be sure to also get the offer in writing.
  3. Be annoying. Do your research and ask lots of questions, in addition to doing your own follow up research online. Find out who you are really dealing with—scammers pose as people or organizations that you know and trust, so take time to make sure it’s really your loved one asking you for help. Never send money to someone you don’t know and trust—it’s very uncommon to get your money back from a scammer. Before entering your personal and financial information, search the company online with the words “reviews” and “scams” after the name. Also try searching for the product in a search engine or another ecommerce site to see if the product really exists elsewhere.
  4. Keep your emotions in check. Scammers play on your emotions to get what they want, including adopting a personal touch. They may tell you a child or grandchild is in need of help (a grandchild in jail in a foreign country is a common scam) and needs money right away through a wire transfer, gift card or even by having someone show up at your door to collect cash. The best way you can help your family is to ask for the caller’s name, number and the organization they represent. Tell them you will call them back and take time to connect with your family to see if anyone truly is in trouble, as well as to report the attempted fraudulent activity to local or federal authorities.
  5. Secure your computer (and payments). Keep your computer secure by updating your firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and only buy products or services online from a verified source. When you are paying for something online, look for a URL starting with ‘https’ and a closed padlock symbol, which verifies the site is secure. As a reminder, make sure you only use gift cards for gift giving—companies requesting gift cards as a form of payment are a red flag that they are not a legitimate organization.
  6. Protect your identity. While sharing about your life online may be fun, there are certain personal details that should remain private. A golden rule when interacting online: never give someone your online banking login information. Be sure to also keep your Social Security number, any banking information, your birth date and address away from scammers.
  7. If you see something, say something. If you’ve spotted a scam, spread the word! Tell your family and friends and report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The Winnebago County Sherriff’s Office (in Wisconsin) also has great tips to stay safe and ways to report local scams to authorities.

How Verve can help

If you think your Verve account is at risk because of a social media scam, online purchase or any other type of holiday scam, call Verve at 800.448.9228. One of our team members can look at your account with you to verify there are no suspicious transactions, help you cancel your card if you’ve entered your number into a questionable website, as well as guide you on how to safeguard your account against fraud.

It’s Verve’s goal—in line with our guiding cooperative principles—to provide education, training and information to help our members stay financially fit. Verve is committed to keeping our members educated when it comes to their finances by providing details on financial risks and ways to stay safe.

Help your friends and family protect themselves against common holiday scams by sharing this blog post.