Avoid scams dur­ing the hol­i­days

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Sarah Skid­more Sell

More spend­ing, more do­na­tions, more travel and more dis­trac­tions — there’s no time like the hol­i­days for fraud.

“Scam­mers are op­por­tunists and, un­for­tu­nately, at the hol­i­days we give them plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties,” said Kather­ine Hutt, a spokes­woman for the Bet­ter Busi­ness Bu­reau. She says the most im­por­tant thing peo­ple can do is be aware of pos­si­ble scams and to be ex­tra cau­tious at this time of year.

Here are a few com­mon types of hol­i­day frauds and tips on how to avoid them:

When shop­ping

On­line shop­ping is con­ve­nient and pop­u­lar — for shop­pers and scam­mers alike.

The most com­mon ways crim­i­nals can ac­cess your per­sonal and fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Com­puter Emer­gency Readi­ness Team, which is part of the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, are cre­at­ing fraud­u­lent sites and email mes­sages, in­ter­cept­ing in­se­cure trans­ac­tions and tar­get­ing vul­ner­a­ble com­put­ers.

Use the same good sense you would at other times. Re­strict your pur­chases to rep­utable ven­dors, and be wary of looka­like web­sites, where the name of a well-known brand is slightly off. Don’t click on emails and links from un­fa­mil­iar senders, and make pay­ments only on se­cure sites in­di­cated by a lock sym­bol or “https” in the web ad­dress.

At the hol­i­days, the im­pulse to snap up a great deal can be strong. A com­mon com­plaint to the Na­tional Con­sumers League is from shop­pers who found amaz­ing deals on­line — of­ten for in-de­mand prod­ucts like elec­tron­ics or fash­ion — but their or­ders never ma­te­ri­al­ized.

Also be wary of any busi­ness that asks you to pay for hol­i­day pur­chases us­ing pre­paid debit cards, gift cards, wire trans­fers or other pay­ment forms that can­not be traced or un­done, the Bet­ter Busi­ness Bu­reau says. Use a credit card for more pro­tec­tion against fraud and for re­funds.

When giv­ing to char­ity

The hol­i­days are a busy time for mak­ing do­na­tions. The de­sire to be gen­er­ous is best ac­com­pa­nied by solid knowl­edge.

The FTC sug­gests re­search­ing an or­ga­ni­za­tion to ver­ify its au­then­tic­ity, us­ing sources such as the Bet­ter Busi­ness Bu­reau’s Wise Giv­ing Al­liance or on­line tools such as Char­ity Nav­i­ga­tor, Char­ity Watch and GuideS­tar. Avoid any char­ity or fundraiser that re­fuses to pro­vide de­tailed in­for­ma­tion about its iden­tity, mis­sion, costs and how the do­na­tion will be used. Be wary of a char­ity that uses a name that closely re­sem­bles but is not that of a bet­ter-known or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Ap­ply the same pre­cau­tions as when you’re shop­ping, as do­nat­ing in­volves shar­ing much of the same per­sonal and fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion. Al­ways pay with a check made out to the char­ity or by credit card, never send cash or wire money.

When trav­el­ing

The hol­i­days can be a great time for trips and new ex­pe­ri­ences, but the Na­tional Con­sumers League says some­times these turn into bad mem­o­ries.

It sug­gests avoid­ing sus­pi­cious on­line ho­tel book­ing sites in fa­vor of well-known bro­kers or mak­ing your reser­va­tion di­rectly with the ho­tel; stick­ing with li­censed taxis or us­ing a known ride-hail­ing ser­vice when out of town; and pro­tect­ing de­tails about your air­line miles and loy­alty points as you would your fi­nances.

Trav­el­ers should also avoid “free Wi-Fi” hotspots while at the air­port or re­lax­ing else­where, the group says, since that’s an easy way to ex­pose the per­sonal in­for­ma­tion on your phone, com­puter or other de­vice.

E-scams

New tech­nol­ogy means new kinds of scams. While sev­eral trusted com­pa­nies of­fer charm­ing and per­son­al­ized let­ters from Santa, the Bet­ter Busi­ness Bu­reau warns that some scam­mers mimic them to get per­sonal in­for­ma­tion from par­ents.

Be care­ful as well with elec­tronic greet­ing cards that ap­pear to be from a char­ity or loved one. John Breyault of the Na­tional Con­sumers League said they can be from im­posters seek­ing per­sonal in­for­ma­tion or try­ing to spread mal­ware or a virus. Two signs: the sender’s name is not ap­par­ent, or you’re re­quired to share ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion to get the card.

Some so­cial me­dia posts ap­pear to of­fer vouch­ers or gift cards as part of hol­i­day pro­mo­tions or con­tests that re­quires tak­ing a sur­vey. That can be a means to steal per­sonal in­for­ma­tion. The BBB also warns against tak­ing part in gift ex­changes on­line. While it sounds great to buy one gift and get 36 in re­turn, it’s a vari­a­tion on a pyramid scheme and is il­le­gal.

No mat­ter what form a fraud takes, re­port any sus­pected scam to the lo­cal po­lice, state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice, the FTC, the FBI, the BBB or the Na­tional Con­sumers League.

“Fraud tends to be un­der­re­ported, peo­ple of­ten feel em­bar­rassed,” Breyault said. “Don’t be em­bar­rassed, it hap­pens to mil­lions of peo­ple.”

“Scam­mers are op­por­tunists and, un­for­tu­nately, at the hol­i­days we give them plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties.” — Kather­ine Hutt, Bet­ter Busi­ness Bu­reau

Wil­fredo Lee, The As­so­ci­ated Press

There’s no time like the hol­i­days for fraud: On­line shop­ping is con­ve­nient and pop­u­lar, for shop­pers and scam­mers alike.

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