The 12 Scams of Christmas

Your holiday spirit is in full swing—you’ve started shopping; you’ve planned gatherings with friends and started sending out holiday cards.

We don’t want to dampen your holiday spirit, but it’s definitely not a time to be caught off guard with your money. Unfortunately, the Grinches are out in full swing and could potentially steal your Christmas if you’re not being careful.

Add these tips to your list and stay safe from holiday scams:

  1. Free Gift Cards—Everyone likes a freebie, especially around the holidays. But scammers know this and will steal your information through phishing emails and pop-up ads offering gift cards. Don’t click on ads, and if you receive an email that looks suspicious, mark it as spam or delete it. Also, if the e-mail requests that you provide personal information like account numbers, login credentials, or your Social Security Number to receive a free gift card, it’s a scam.
  2. Letters from Santa—Nothing is sacred. Even the letters you arrange to have sent to your child from Santa can be Scrooged. Many businesses legitimately offer personalized letters from Santa, but some copycat scammers are only looking to steal your personal information. So, be suspicious of unsolicited emails offering special prices for letters from Santa. Check the Better Business Bureau to verify if the business is legitimate.
  3. Travel Scams—Bargains abound during the holiday season to either help travelers, or to scam unsuspecting people into jumping on great deals. Be cautious when it comes to e-mail offers: ask for references, and don’t wire money to anyone you don’t know when booking your trip or flight.
  4. Sneak Attacks on Your Credit—It’s the most wonderful time of the year …for your credit to be compromised. Data breaches continue to be a threat to consumers and leave many of us with compromised debit or credit cards. What better time for scammers to start racking up purchases on YOUR card? Keep an eye on your Tower account activity with e-mail & text alerts in Home Banking and push notifications in our Mobile App.
  5. Fake Online Shops—Beware of “amazing” deals on unfamiliar websites. It might be a fake web store. Once you buy something and give them your credit card information, all bets are off. Pop-up shops should be investigated by checking the ‘About Us’ page and calling the phone number. If there’s no number, it’s probably not a legitimate business. Also, look for spelling errors on the web pages or unclear photos. Best to find another deal elsewhere.
  6. Temporary Holiday Jobs—Most retailers hire additional staff for the holidays, but be careful when applying for jobs online and giving out your personal information. Be sure to go directly to the retailer’s link to apply (instead of clicking a link from an e-mail or social media ad), and don’t give out personal information over the phone or online before the interview.
  7. Fake Shipping Notifications—You might get a false alert like this: “Your item is out of stock. We’ll notify you when it’s in.” Or “Your item has been delivered.” Um, no it hasn’t. Never click any link associated with this type of communication. Always log on to the retailer’s website with your order number for more information about your purchase, or make a phone call to the store.
  8. Wish List Scams— There are plenty of places where you can go online to create your own a holiday wish list or gift registry. What could go wrong here? Plenty, it turns out. This practice opens the list-maker to phishing attacks, since scam artists will automatically know what interests you. If you MUST create a list, be sure to customize the privacy settings so that only certain people can see it, and don’t include any personally identifiable information.
  9. Charity Scams—People like to give to charities over the holidays, and there are many wonderful organizations that gratefully accept your generous donations. However, when it comes to online appeals for money, and make sure the charity is real by typing in the organization’s web address URL manually or by using search to find the legitimate link. You can also use Charity Navigator to confirm the organization’s identity.
  10. Holiday eCards—Many folks now send eCards for free online holiday greetings. Be cautious when you receive one, as scammers have jumped on the popularity of free cards—using them to infect your computer with malicious software. You can spot a fake by checking whether the sender’s name is easily visible. Also, be wary if you are asked to enter personal information before opening the card. And, if your e-mail contains an attachment or clickable URL that ends in “.exe”, this indicates an execute command for malware, so don’t open it.
  11. Social Media Gift Exchange—Purchasing one gift and receiving many in return may sound like a festive thing to participate in, but this is a pyramid scheme—and illegal. Don’t fall for it. Read more about this scam here.
  12. Phishing, Vishing and Smishing—These tried-and-true scams don’t take a vacation at the holidays; rather, they might take on a more “festive” tone. It could come in the form of a phone call, text or holiday email sales promotion from a favorite store or brand with a too-good-to-be-true offer. To recognize an offer from a secure site, check for proper spelling and grammar. Review the site’s URL and look for a green lock symbol and an HTTPS in the website address. More tips here.

A closing note: Don’t say “Bah Humbug” to the holidaysjust be aware of the ways some people and organizations may be dishonest during this time of cheer. The above tips will help you avoid fraud and identity theft, no matter what the season.

Resources: Better Business Bureau, Fight Identity Theft, CU Insight, MarketWatch, Inc., Credit.com, Inc.