Craig Gima
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

It’s easy during these last busy shopping days before Christmas to be distracted and scam artists are especially hoping to catch you off guard during this time of year. They hope that you won’t think twice if you see a text message or email asking you to click on a link because a package wasn’t delivered or get a deal on social media that seems too good to be true.

A new survey from the AARP Fraud Watch Network looked at the fraud risks that we should all be aware of during the holidays. The survey found that three out of four consumers have experienced or been targeted by at least one fraud that can be tied to the holidays, including end-of-year charitable donation requests (39%), purchasing an item through an online ad (35%) and receiving fake notifications about shipping issues (29%).  

Holiday shoppers should beware when shopping online, especially when responding to ads. Scammers can purchase online ads that appear to be legitimate retailers, but instead connect to criminals looking to steal sensitive information and money. Clicking on the link to order an item with a price that is too good to be true could lead to identity theft and even worse you might not get the item you ordered.

Gift cards continue to be popular with 67% of those surveyed planning to purchase one this holiday season. But beware of gift card scams. About 26% of respondents said they have given or received a gift card with no balance. Criminals manipulate gift cards on racks and can also use software to look online for activated cards with balances. It may be safest to purchase a gift card directly from the card issuer’s website versus purchasing off a rack at a physical store. 

With so many packages being shipped or ordered during the holidays, consumers should also avoid package scams. Nearly a third of those surveyed experienced a scam in which someone fraudulently claimed to be from USPS, FedEx or UPS. Consumers should connect directly with the retailer or shipping carrier instead of clicking on a link from a text or email claiming a shipping issue has occurred.

It’s common to make end-of-the-year donations this time of year. But be careful of fake charities. If you plan to donate to a charity this holiday season (or anytime), check how watchdogs like Charity Navigator, Charity Watch and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance rate an organization before you make a donation.  

Here are some tips to stay away from naughty holiday scammers:

  • Avoid clicking on online ads or on links from emails and texts; type the web address of the site you wish to visit into your browser directly. 
  • Retailers will never contact you about a “problem” and request your login information.
  • The safest way to use peer-to-peer (P2P) payment services is with trusted contacts. 
  • Credit cards have more consumer protections than other forms of payment.
  • Updating your device and antivirus software when prompted is critical to protect against the latest threats (better yet, set up automatic updates).

For more information on scams, visit the AARP Fraud Watch Network website at aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.

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.

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