'Tis The Season to Be Wary of Scams

by News Editor on December 6th, 2013 in Security Tips.

There is no better time to shop online than the holidays, when the hoards of shoppers can sap your energy and holiday spirit.

But just be aware that the Grinch may be stealing the presents and he might be stealing your personal information if you don’t take precautions for safe online holiday shopping.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is reminding shoppers to beware of online scams targeting holiday shoppers.

  • Fake gift cards: Criminals will sell phony gift cards or gift cards purchased with a stolen credit card. Victims of this fraud can lose out big time when the vendor discovers the card is fraudulent and deactivates the card. The safest way to purchase gift cards is directly from the vendor.
  • Phony e-greeting cards: These electronic greeting cards bring more than holiday cheer. Scammers will send electronic cards that can contain links and attachments to malware or phishing websites. Avoid opening e-cards from an unrecognized email.
  • Fraudulent classified ads or auction sales online: Scammers will post ads on classified websites like Craigslist or auction sites like eBay (EBAY) for products they do not have. If you receive a product from a retail store rather than directly from the auction seller, the item may have been purchased with a stolen credit card number. Contact the merchant to verify the account. Do not provide credit card and bank account numbers, or other financial information directly to a seller. Fraudulent sellers will use this information to purchase items for their scheme. Always use a legitimate payment service, like PayPal, to protect purchases. Be sure to check each seller's rating and feedback along with their number of sales. "Be wary of a seller with 100 percent positive feedback if they have a low total number of feedback postings and all feedback was posted around the same date and time," the FBI says.
  • Phishing: Shoppers should be leery of e-mails or text messages indicating a problem or question regarding a financial account. In this scam, the victim is asked to click on a link or call a number to update their account or correct the problem. Any personal information provided, such as account number and personal identification number will be stolen.

One-day-only promotions: Beware of bargain e-mails advertising one-day-only promotions for popular brands or websites. Scammers will use popular items of the season to lure victims into providing credit card information. "The old adage, 'If it seems too good to be true, it probably is,' is a good barometer to use to legitimize emails," the FBI says.

Better Business Bureau is also warning about the 12 most common Christmas scams and frauds:

  • Malware e-cards: Viruses and malware often travel in e-mail attachments or links. Don’t click on an e-mail from someone you don’t know or a name you don’t recognize. When it doubt, delete! E-Cards are a popular way to send a quick “thank you” or holiday greeting, but some are malicious and may contain spyware or viruses that download onto your computer once you click on the link to view the greeting.
  • Stranded grandkids: It’s the classic “grandparent scam.” If your grandchild, other relative or friend calls or e-mails to say they were robbed or hurt overseas, check before wiring money.
  • Counterfeit gifts: Low prices on luxury goods are almost always cheap counterfeits. At best, you’ll look like a Scrooge. At worst, you may be helping finance drug traffickers or terrorists.
  • Pickpockets: Need we say more? Keep your purse or wallet secure when shopping. Don’t get overburdened or put shopping bags down, even for a moment. Thieves are watching!
  • Stolen gift cards: Buy gift cards only from reputable dealers, not online or from individuals. It’s easy for a scammer to sell you the card, then pull off the funds before you can even give the gift.
  • Fake coupons: Be cautious when downloading coupons. Always make sure you are at a retailer’s real website. Be especially careful with coupon sites that ask for personal information.
  • Santa scammers: What could be more jolly than a letter from Santa addressed directly to your child? Make sure the site is real and not gathering your data for identity theft purposes.
  • Fake charities: Charities count on end-of-the-year giving, so be generous if you can. But be careful, too, because scammers set up fake charities with similar sounding names.
  • Bogus websites: It’s easy to mimic a real website, with logos and everything. Red flags: http (not the more secure https), no contact information, asking for payment.
  • Travel scams: With busy holiday travel, bargains may be tempting. Be cautious when booking through online ads, never wire money to someone you don’t know, and ask for references.
  • Romance scams: Everyone wants a special someone under the mistletoe, so holidays are prime time for scams. Be careful with an online sweetheart who gets cozy too fast or asks for money.
  • Puppy scams: Be very careful buying pets online, especially at the holidays. You may get a puppy mill pooch with problems, or you may get nothing at all because it was a scam.