Holiday shopping season is here, and that presents plenty of opportunities for scammers to spoil your celebrations. They are more than willing to use the joyous mood to get into your wallet. But with a little preparation and vigilance, you can cut down on the threat of becoming a scam victim.
Many holiday scams involve bogus websites or, increasingly, mobile apps. Some faux e-stores even mimic trusted retailers, with familiar logos and slogans and a web address that’s easily mistaken for the real thing. They offer popular items at a fraction of the usual cost and promise perks like free shipping and overnight delivery, exploiting the premium online shoppers put on price and speed.
Some of these copycats do deliver merchandise — shoddy knockoffs worth less than even the “discount” price you mistook for a once-in-a-lifetime deal on, say, Tiffany watches or Timberland boots. More often, you’ll wait in vain for your purchase to arrive.
AARP conducted a national survey in 2019 of adults 18+. Key findings from the survey include:
- More than one third of US adults say they received a donation request to a charity or cause that was likely fraudulent.
- Only one third of those who received donation requests checked out the donation recipient on a charity rating site. But among those who did, more than half decided not to proceed.
- More than 70% of US adults plan to buy gift cards as presents. However, nearly one in five report that they have either given or received a gift card that had no funds on it (likely compromised by a scammer).
- About HALF of US adults will be sending packages to family and friends this holiday season, but when shipping, 50% NEVER request a signature on delivery (leaving an opening for porch pirates to steal the packages).
Here are some other common holiday scams to be on the lookout for this holiday season:
“Too-good-to-be-true” online deals
Online ads, e-mails, social media posts – even from people you “know,” of impossibly good online deals could be scams. You might get nothing for your money or an inferior item, and your credit card number could be compromised during the transaction. A too-good-to-be-true deal should send up a red flag.
The drained gift card
Thieves can hit store gift card racks, scan the numbers off the cards, then check online or call the toll-free number to see if someone has bought and activated the cards. As soon as a card is active, the scammers drain the funds. By the time your gift recipient tries to use the card, the money is long gone. Safely purchase gift cards directly from the store clerk or buy them online directly from the retailer.
Payment by gift card demands
Scammers use this tactic year-round, but it could heat up over the chaos of the holiday season. You get a call from someone claiming to be from a government agency, like the Social Security Administration. They claim your benefit has been suspended and you need to pay a fee immediately by purchasing gift cards and sharing the card numbers and PINs with the caller. Anytime someone demands payment by gift card, it is a scam. It’s not the Social Security Administration, or the IRS, or your local sheriff’s office. Hang up and report the scam attempt at ftc.gov/complaint
Package Delivery Scams
Thieves send fake e-mails from delivery services about a package being held pending delivery. The e-mail directs you to click on a link that asks for your credit card or other personal information. Closely review the e-mail – check the sender information, look for misspellings, and hover over the link with your mouse to see if it is really taking you to the delivery service’s website. Also – request signatures for deliveries to stop thieves from stealing packages from doorsteps.
Legitimate charities make a big push at year-end for last minute annual donations. Scammers know this, and make their own end-of-year push to line their own pockets. Check the charity before donating at charitynavigator.org
, and make sure your donation is going to the charities that really are using your money for good.
When it comes to fraud, vigilance is our number one weapon. You have the power to protect yourself and your loved ones from scams. And if you believe you may have fallen victim to a scam this holiday season, call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 1-877-908-3360 for guidance and support.
Suzanne LaFollette-Black has been a gerontologist for the past 35+ years. She is the AARP NC Associate State Director of Advocacy and Community Outreach. Suzanne’s career has been in the aging network as a non-profit nursing home administrator, Area Agency on Aging Director, Executive Director of Moore County Department of Aging. Suzanne is originally from Window Rock, Arizona (Navajo Indian reservation). Suzanne has a BS in Sociology and minor in Zoology/ Music from NAU and graduate studies at USC Ethel Andrus Percy Gerontology program and MASA from University of North Texas, Denton, Texas. She served as the NCAOA (NC Association on Aging, Inc.) President from 2018-2020; Rotary; NCIOM Deaf and Hearing committee; Governor’s Highway Safety Executive Committee; and other community organizations.