Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
The holidays are a time of giving and celebration. But for scammers, ‘tis the season to take rather than give. Here are some tips from the AARP Fraud Watch Network on how to protect yourself from holiday scams.
Look out for:
Fake Online Ads
The AARP Holiday Fraud Survey found that 35% of consumers have experienced fraud when buying products online. A fake or copycat website may lead you to buy something that never arrives. Answering questions could allow someone to steal your identity, and clicking on a link could download viruses or malicious software.
To protect yourself; remember that if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you see something you want to buy from a company you’ve never heard of, check it out by searching the name of the company on your web browser. Also beware of spelling errors, unusual web addresses and websites that look unprofessional.
Gift Card Scams
Our survey also found that 21% of U.S. adults have given or received a gift card with no value on it. This happens when scammers steal the numbers off the card, replace the scratch-off film strip and put it back on the rack. When the gift card is purchased and activated, they’ll drain the value of the card before you or the gift recipient has a chance to redeem it.
To avoid becoming a victim, purchase gift cards online off the product’s website. If you buy a gift card from the store, don’t buy the top card on the rack. See if the store has gift cards behind the counter and inspect all gift cards for signs of tampering.
One more warning about gift cards — Beware if a stranger calls, texts or emails you saying that you owe the IRS money or that your electric bill is about to be cutoff and you need to pay with a gift card or what scammers sometimes call “electronic vouchers.” If a stranger asks you to buy a gift card as payment of a debt, it’s probably a scam.
This is also the time of year when package deliveries increase. The AARP Holiday Fraud Survey found that 25% of consumers have had a package stolen from outside their home and 34% have received a fake notification about a shipment!
Don’t click on links in emails and text messages that talk about a package you’ve never ordered or about a problem with shipping a package. Look up the legitimate links and phone numbers in the phone book or online. To protect yourself from porch pirates, find out if a package can be picked up rather than delivered to your front door.
Pay with a Credit Card
One last tip: Pay with a credit card when holiday shopping rather than using debit cards or cash payment apps. A credit card gives you more protection and you may be able to cancel a purchase if you find out later that it’s fraudulent.
Craig Gima is communications director at AARP Hawai‘i. He is an award-winning multimedia communicator with more than 30 years of experience. A Honolulu native, Gima spent nearly 19 years at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in a variety of reporting, editing and online roles before joining AARP in 2016. Gima graduated cum laude from the University of Southern California.