Top 5 Christmas Scams to Watch for This Christmas Shopping Season

Protect yourself from the Christmas scams most likely to hurt shoppers and charitable givers this year: Internet ScamBusters #259

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — especially for

Don’t let a thieving “Scrooge” ruin your Christmas, Hanukkah
or Kwanzaa. Watch for holiday-specific versions of these 5
popular scams.

If you’re desperate to find the right gift or help the needy,
you’re a perfect target for fly-by-night Internet merchants,
phishers and charitable “posers.”

Protect yourself and your family with these Christmas shopping
safety tips.

Before we get started, we suggest you visit last week’s most
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Time to get going…

Top 5 Christmas Scams to Watch for This Christmas Shopping Season

As the Christmas shopping season shifts into high gear, take
time to think carefully before making your purchases and any
charitable donations.

Although scammers are always prowling for victims with the
following scams, consumers are especially vulnerable during
the holidays. With so much to do, many otherwise cautious
people let their guards down.

Con artists are ready to exploit busy, distracted shoppers —
some desperate to buy popular gift items. They’re also ready
to “ramp up” their emotional appeals when posing as
representatives of real (or real-sounding) charities.

We believe the following 5 Christmas Scams will dominate the 2007 Christmas season.
However, if you use common sense and take our advice, the Grinch won’t have a chance of stealing
YOUR Christmas.

Top 5 Christmas Season Scams

  1. Fly-By-Night Web Merchants. Each holiday season features
    THE gift — an item so “hot” that many store shelves are
    quickly emptied, causing people to literally lose their minds
    in an effort to buy it.

    To exploit scarcity, scammers set up websites offering this
    product, as do dishonest online auction sellers.

    After raking in the money, the scammers shut down their
    “stores” and disappear. If you’re “lucky,” you are simply
    left with no gift item. If you’re unlucky, you are further
    victimized by a …

  2. Phishing Scam, run by someone who will use your credit
    card information to charge more products and services to your
    account and/or sell the information to identity thieves.

    In most cases, however, phishing scammers launch websites that
    look nearly identical to those of larger, reputable merchants
    — not unknown companies.

    Typically, you’re contacted by email with a tempting offer or
    dire warning, and then directed to click on a link, which
    takes you to a fake website. Once there, you’re told to enter
    personal and financial information wanted by the thieves.

    Read Phishing
    Scams: How You Can Protect Yourself
    to find out more about
    phishing scams.

    Safety Tips: To avoid falling prey to either Christmas scam
    #1 or #2:

    — Shop only with reputable merchants, preferably ones you’ve
    used before.

    — Confirm that the website actually BELONGS to that merchant.
    Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails. Type in the URL

    — Use a credit card, not your debit card. Even if you never
    get the merchandise, credit cards aren’t directly linked to
    your bank account, and you’re also not responsible for more
    than $50 in fraudulent charges.

    — If possible, use one-time use credit card numbers, called
    “controlled payment numbers” or “virtual account numbers,” for
    your online purchases. We’ve talked about these before (see
    #4 about a third of the way down href="">MasterCard Security
    Alert). Bank of America
    also offers these now (they call it ShopSafe). We personally
    use these special credit card numbers all the time — it’s
    much safer.

  3. Charity Scams. Scammers may pose as representatives of
    charitable organizations that are real (or merely sound real).
    At this time of year, their emotionally-charged appeals are
    more likely to strike “pay dirt” with normally savvy people.

    We recently reported a new email phishing href="">scam that’s soliciting donations to help victims of the
    California wildfires.

    You can be sure that other scams will soon be asking for
    donations to this cause and many others. The scams may
    involve nationally recognized charities aiding well-known
    causes, or local groups handling problems closer to home.

    Safety Tips: Whether you’re approached by email, telephone or
    in person, be VERY wary of high-pressure, donate NOW pitches.

    Avoid “charities” whose representatives won’t answer
    reasonable questions, such as (specifically) how the money
    will be spent.

    And NEVER give cash or supply credit card information via
    email or phone. Don’t write checks payable to an individual
    solicitor. If you’ve never heard of an organization, confirm
    for yourself that it’s real.

    You can find 9 tips to help you avoid charity scams in our href="">Which Charities are
    Legitimate? article.

  4. Gift Card Scams. Nearly every major retailer offers gift
    cards, many of which hang on racks at checkout counters.
    Today, most cards are protected by scratch-off security codes
    and protective packaging to prevent information theft.

    If cards are not protected, however, scammers can write down
    the numbers while the cards are on display, and then call an
    800 number to learn when the cards have been activated.

    After that, stealing is as simple as rushing to the merchant
    and making purchases before the REAL cardholder gets there.

    Safety Tips: Purchase gift cards online, if possible. Or,
    only buy the cards from retailers when they’re kept behind
    registers or available upon request.

    Check out our Special Issue on href="">New Gift Card Scams:
    8 Tips to
    Protect Yourself.

  5. Holiday E-Card Scams. You may receive an email from an
    unnamed “relative,” “neighbor,” or “friend” who has supposedly
    sent you an e-card that can be viewed by clicking on a link.

    Clicking on that link, however, may unleash anything from
    spyware and pop-up ads to viruses and Trojans. In some cases,
    nothing bad happens until you first download software from the
    e-card website. (The software is supposedly needed to “run”
    your e-card.)

    Sometimes, unwanted or malicious software is downloaded to
    your computer with your permission — after you agree to
    certain “fine-print” terms and conditions, usually without
    reading them.

    Safety Tips: If there’s any doubt about an e-card’s
    authenticity, don’t click on any links inside.

    Delete e-cards from people you don’t know without opening or
    reading them, and never click to accept terms from any company
    without actually reading the fine print.

    Most important, install antivirus and anti-spyware software
    and keep it up to date.

    You can find a lot more information on e-card scams at href="">Ecard Scams:
    Greetings! A Scammer Has Sent You an Ecard!

When it comes to any type of scam — at any time of year — we
suggest you trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel
right, do more homework or buy from another vendor.

Here’s hoping you have a happy and scam-free Christmas season!