Scamsters never take a break but, around the holiday season, they are working over time to make the season an unhappy one for many that they target. To keep your holidays merry, bright and safe, don’t let a crook lighten your wallet or steal your cheer.

Here are ways to first recognize and then avoid holiday shopping scams, better protecting your identity and finances while searching for the perfect gifts online.

Scam #1: phishing through emails, websites or social media

  • Recognize it:
    • Phishing scams and similar crimes get you to click on links and give up personal information like your name, password, and bank account number.
    • In some cases, you may unknowingly download malware to your device.
    • Be especially wary if a company asks you to update your password or account information.
  • Avoid it:
    • Don’t click any suspicious links or attachments in emails, on websites, or on social media.
    • Be wary of phishing emails that are often designed to look like an authentic message from a well-known brand.
    • Don’t click on links or open attachments in unsolicited emails. If you want to learn more about the offer, search for the authentic website and log on directly by opening a browser and typing the web address yourself.
    • Do not provide sensitive information through email. Legitimate providers will not ask you to do that.
    • Stay better protected by keeping your computer devices' operating systems and antivirus protections up to date.

Scam #2: fraudulent ads/sellers

  • Recognize it:
    • Ads on social media can lead to a fake site that is intended to resemble a legitimate business or that downloads malicious software on your device.
    • Be wary of online ads touting unbelievable sales because — you guessed it — they probably shouldn’t be trusted.
    • Websites that have misspelled words or grammatical errors.
    • Scams can also occur when shoppers search online for customer service contact information. Online ads that appear to be a legitimate company’s customer service information can be a scammer’s attempt to get consumers to call them instead.
  • Avoid it:
    • Do your homework on unfamiliar retailers. Know who you’re buying from.
      • Check online reviews.
      • Avoid sellers who act as authorized dealers or factory representatives of popular items in countries where there would be no such deals.
      • Be wary of sellers who post an auction or advertisement as if they reside in the U.S., then respond to questions by stating they are out of the country on business, family emergency, or similar reasons.
      • Check websites for the https and padlock indicating that your information will be encrypted. This is typically identified by a URL that begins with "https:" (instead of "http:") and a padlock icon. Remember that some attackers may try to trick website visitors by displaying a fake padlock icon, so be sure that the icon looks authentic and is in the appropriate location for your browser.
      • Consumer Reports provides a list of ways to research the retailer including: searching the BBB website for prior complaints and looking for seals of approval from organizations that vouch for the retailer’s reputation. Make a note of the retailer’s phone number and physical address in case there is a problem with your transaction or your bill.
      • Contacting customer service - Use a billing statement or other information obtained directly from the company to find legitimate numbers. Also, a retailer will never ask for your log-in information when providing customer support.

    Scam #3: payment scams

    • Recognize it:
      • If a site doesn’t have a privacy policy that indicates how your information will be stored and used, that’s a big red flag that it may be a scam.
      • A seller will ask you to send them your pre-paid gift card number and PIN. Instead of using that gift card for your payment, the scammer will steal the funds, and you’ll never receive your item.
    • Avoid it:
      • Never wire money directly to a seller.
      • Don’t pay for items with pre-paid gift cards.
      • Use a credit card or debit card that has Zero Fraud Liability such as GLCU’s.
      • Check your card transactions online regularly.
      • Always get tracking numbers for items you buy online, so you can make sure they have been shipped and can follow the delivery process.
      • Peer-to-peer apps like Cash App, Zelle and Venmo are gaining popularity with 45% of adults reporting they plan to use one this holiday season, but they do not offer fraud protection. Stick with your protected GLCU credit card or debit card.
      • Use a GLCU digital wallet.
      • Choose shopping apps wisely - Be aware that some mobile shopping apps could be a scam, and other legitimate shopping apps may collect a lot of personal information. Look for apps that tell you what they do with your data and how they keep it secure. Keep in mind that there may be no legal limit on your liability with money stored in a shopping app or on a gift card. Unless otherwise stated in the terms of service, you may be responsible for all charges made through your shopping app.

    Scam #4: gift card fraud

    • Recognize it:
      • This fraud is when a person either gives or receives a gift card with no value.
      • Crooks tamper with gift cards on store racks and use the information to steal the funds before it can be legitimately used.
      • Scammers can use bots to test millions of combinations of gift card numbers and PINs on retailer websites. Once they find an active card, they drain the money—either by purchasing items for themselves or selling the card’s credentials on the dark web. When the recipient attempts to use the card, they discover that it has little to no funds available.
    • Avoid it:
      • Buy gift cards online and purchase them directly from the issuer, such as a retailer or restaurant.
      • Purchase gift cards from a reputable source - The Retail Gift Card Association recommends purchasing gift cards only from trusted sources and known brands, especially when buying online.
      • If you purchase a gift card in-store, check the card to see if the wrapping has been tampered with, or if the PIN has been revealed. If a gift card looks suspicious, take it to an employee and pick a different card.
      • If the gift card is digital, store it in an online account or mobile wallet that requires a password.
      • If you receive a gift card this holiday season, use it as soon as possible to avoid loss or theft, or alternatively register the gift card and change the PIN.

    Scam #5: stolen packages

    • Recognize it:
      • This scam occurs when a person has a package stolen from outside their door (usually front door).
      • A related scam is when scammers send fake shipping issue notifications to get consumers to disclose payment or sensitive personal information.
    • Avoid it:
      • Always get tracking numbers for items you buy online, so you can make sure they have been shipped and can follow the delivery process and know when the package is delivered.
      • If you are unable to pick up your packages immediately, arrange to have them delivered to a trusted neighbor or held at the shipper’s local distribution center.

    By taking the time to research and safeguard your holiday shopping options, you will greatly improve your chances of having a fraud-free holiday season.

    And don’t forget… if it seems too good to be true, it probably is!

    Happy Holidays!

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