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
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
Before we get started, we suggest you visit last week’s most
popular articles from our other websites:
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Diving into Debt: Myths About Installing an Indoor Swimming Pool: If
you’re drowning in myths about href="http://www.mythbusters.com/diving-into-debt-myths-about-installing-an-indoor-swimming-p.html"
target="_blank">installing a swimming pool, get the
real facts now.
Christmas Tree Facts You Probably Didn’t Know: An inside holiday peek
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the 2007 holiday season with the href="http://www.christmaslore.com/the_history_behind_the_dazzle_of_christmas_lights.html"
target="_blank">history behind those Christmas lights you’ll
be hanging up soon.
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
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
Top 5 Christmas Season Scams
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 …
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.
Scams: How You Can Protect Yourself to find out more about
Safety Tips: To avoid falling prey to either Christmas scam
#1 or #2:
— Shop only with reputable merchants, preferably ones you’ve
— 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="http://www.scambusters.org/mastercard.html">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
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.
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.
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.
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”
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
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.
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!