The 12 Scams of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas, the fraudsters gave to me…

1. Gift Exchange Scams: I’m sure you’ve seen these via email or facebook, the “Secret Sisters” or “Secret Santa” scam where you donate $10 to another participant with the promise of receiving up to 36 gifts in return. I have to admit, I was tempted! Especially in these lonlier-than-usual pandemic times, the thought of spreading gifts and happiness is a powerful temptation. Unfortunately, the Better Business Bureau has warned that it is actually an illegal pyramid scheme, and it provides scammers with at least your name and home address. You’ll never see those gifts or your $10.

2. Phony Shipping Notifications: Again, the thought of receiving anything free from anyone sounds pretty great right now! Or maybe you did some late night online shopping and thought you maybe ordered something you forgot about. (It happens, no judgement.) You get a message, usually via email, letting you know your shipment has been delayed and to click on a link to track your package. You can probably guess what happens from there… information stolen, accounts hacked, no packages and no fun!

3. Fake Charities: There’s nothing like a good cause to get me to whip out my (NCCYou) credit card! Food banks, animal shelters, you name it and I’ll give them money. Which is why I have to be extra aware of fake charity scams. Some things to watch out for are aggressive and high pressure pitches, charity names that sound very close to already established charities, and spammy emails. Watch for an email or website address that ends with .com rather than .org. No legitimate charity will ask for donations in the form of wire transfers or gift cards. Taking a few extra minutes to make sure you are supporting the right place can make sure your money goes where it is most needed.

4. Porch Pirates: (term taken from “HuffPost Life- Top 5 Holiday Scams to Watch Out For This Year.) Nearly 26 million Americans reported having Holiday packages stolen from their doorsteps, sometimes even by the drivers themselves! Some ways to prevent this are to require a signature for delivery, have items delivered to your workplace, or install a camera at your door.

5. Social Media Sob Stories: GoFundMe is a perfect example of a way people raise money for bogus sob stories. Another common way is to plea for help on Facebook community pages. I’ve seen them both, and though I’m happy to help for legitimate needs, if I don’t know the person or if I have any doubts, I point them to a legitimate organization that provides help such as the local shelters or food banks.

6. Fake Classified Ad Listings: Ever scroll through Craigslist and see a gorgeous 3 bedroom home for rent for $600, complete with a green lawn in November? Yeah… so, that’s not real. And smart people fall for it all of the time! I once had a roommate that was tricked into cashing a check and wiring money to a “landlord” out of state for a home that didn’t exist. Beware, if it’s too good to be true, it most definitely is. Vehicles, homes, even pets- the scams can come in the form of all sorts of postings.

7. Gift Card Scams: This happened recently to one of our dear members, and I know she would want us to share her story. She received a phone call from an “anti-virus” software company that claimed she overpaid them for their services years ago and they needed to refund her $30. That seems harmless, right? Well, the representative “over-refunded” her by adding an extra 0 to the amount “accidently” refunding her $300 instead. He had also gotten her account information to process the refund. He proceeded to become distressed, saying he couldn’t reverse the refund and that his job was in jeopardy if he didn’t get the money back. Could she please help him by going to Target and purchasing $300 in gift cards (he’d process the original $30 again.) and send them to him? She asked for his supervisor, who proceeded to try to intimidate her by saying that the representative had a family to support and would most definitely lose his job if she didn’t do this right away. She got as far as the checkout in Target (the “Supervisor” even required she keep him on the phone in her pocket while she purchased them!) but luckily, the cashier recognized what was happening and called their manager. Our local Target has numerous scam attempts like this each day. We applaud our member and appreciate her courage in sharing her story!

8. Romance Scams: there is no more lonely time to be single than the Holidays, I get it! Especially when many of us also won’t be traveling to see friends and family and may be spending the Holidays alone. Another one of our members recently shared a common scam she fell prey to, a romance scam. She was befriended by someone on Facebook who proceeded to strike up a friendship with her, and from there they developed a relationship. The “relationship” continued on for 9 months with the person eventually wanting to come and visit her. He claimed to be in the military (even had his “sergeant” call her to verify) but needed her to wire him money for his plane ticket and would pay her back in person. She sent the money and waited in the airport for a long time, eventually realizing what had happened.

9. Shady Email Scams: Also known as Phishing (not the 90’s jam band), it is a common way that fraudsters use to steal your personal information or place a virus on your computer. Often times the email will come with a warning that a service will be cancelled or an account will be closed if you don’t click to confirm your account or provide them with information. These emails are often from addresses that often look legit and very similar to real ones. Never click on or open a link from an email address you don’t personally know, and if you are at all hesitant, type the web address into your browser to visit the site and make sure it’s real. Look especially for spelling or grammar errors.

10. Bogus Deal Sites or Offers: Ok, I recently almost fell for this one myself! An Instagram ad for a really great deal popped up and I clicked. Ooooh, I wanted that really cool portable greenhouse on clearance! Fortunately, when I got to the page, there were a few clues that it wasn’t legit. The site was poorly made and had many different kinds of products listed that had nothing to do with gardening. The URL didn’t start with https// (watch for that!). Sometimes these sites even get as far as getting you to make a purchase then send you nothing or a fake product. They change business names and contact information and now have your account information or credit card number.

11. Intercepted Data: Don’t do any shopping while on a public Wi-Fi account. Hackers in the area can intercept your data over public networks and get access to your passwords, payment information, and more.

12. The Relative in Distress: I was distressed to see that this is something that actually happens! It is more common with an elderly person falling prey to a phone call from their supposed Grandchild or distant relative saying they are in trouble and need to have money wired or use a credit card. Poor Grandma just wants to help and often loses her money, and some trust, in the process.

So, what can you do? Besides just being informed and careful, there are many extra steps you can take to protect yourself.

-Use your credit card for any and all online purchases. It is much easier to dispute fraudulent charges and get your money back.

-Download and use our free credit card protection app, Cardnav, as an extra level of protection on your card.

-Check your credit report and credit score often. We offer ID Guard Checking which alerts you of any changes to your credit report and also covers you in the case of identity theft.

Please reach out to us IMMEDIATELY if you have any concerns or questions about a possible scam!

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