Watch Out For Holiday Scams

Scammers are on the prowl this holiday season. And these grinches are using everything from Santa Claus to the local police department as a ruse to steal from victims. Avoid these e-mail and phone scams to keep the holidays merry.

E-mail Phishing Scams

An e-mail is circulating that promises a handwritten, customized letter from Santa to your child and an official nice-list certification for a small price. This letter is never going to come. Clicking over to the website and entering your payment details will not only bilk you out of $19.95 but will also give thieves your credit card number and billing information.

Thieves are also using e-mail to take advantage of busy shoppers and gift-givers. Bogus e-commerce confirmations are circulating that ask you to "confirm" an online order or in-store pickup.

Clicking on the link exposes you to malware — malicious software that can take over your computer and grab your personal data. Popular retailers like Target, Walmart and Home Depot are among the familiar names criminals use to trick people into clicking.

Experts recommend not clicking on links in e-mail from retailers and shipping companies. Instead, if you think it's an e-mail about a legitimate order, go directly to the merchant's website and look up the order status. Real confirmation e-mails contain order numbers or other identifying information you can use to search for your order or pick-up.

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Phone Schemes

Your computer isn't the only target. Some Arkansas residents have been getting phone calls soliciting donations for Shop With a Cop, which the scammers claim is associated with a local sheriff’s department.

This type of fake charity ploy invoking the name of local law enforcement is common during the holidays. Most agencies do not solicit by phone or ask for personal information by phone. Before donating to any organization, verify independently that it is a real charity.

Thankfully, one criminal trying a phone scam was thwarted this season by vigilant clerks. Grocery store employees in Tennessee foiled a scheme that almost cost one elderly woman thousands of dollars. The victim received a call from a man who claimed to be her grandson, saying that he'd been arrested and needed $1,500 worth of Green Dot MoneyPak cards.

Someone pretending to be a police officer came on the line to corroborate, adding that the woman should tell the clerk the cards were for Christmas presents. The clerk alerted the manager, who was able to convince the woman that this was part of a known scam. 

These aren't the only cynical holiday scams out there. Here are some common ones experts say to be on the look out for:

  • Discount gift cards: Websites offering gift cards at a lower price than face value are often just gathering credit card numbers and billing addresses for identity theft.
  • Phony retail websites: Companies you've never heard of before offering unbelievable bargains may just be a data-collecting scam. Research any unfamiliar companies you plan to online shop with and double-check known sites to make sure you're at the legitimate site and not a copycat.
  • Attempted deliveries: Criminals have left fake UPS or FedEx notices saying a delivery was attempted. When you call the number, the "operator" asks for personal information. A real delivery service would not ask for any such information, as it is unnecessary for deliveries.
  • Coupon or holiday-game apps: Outrageous bargains or Christmas entertainment can come with keystroke logging malware that can grab personal data, such as credit card numbers. Stick with legitimate app stores and vetted developers.

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