Here’s a list of scams you should be aware of during the holiday season.
Credit card skimming – Thieves prefer debit cards over credit cards because debit cards are the fastest and easiest way to cash. The problem with using debit cards is that the money is taken out of your account right away. Thieves can clean out your account before you know what has happened. To protect yourself, never use a debit card to make a purchase.
Charity fraud – There are a number of techniques that thieves use to steal your money through charity frauds: in person, by phone or knocking on your front door. If they contact you, don’t give them any money. Instead, personally contact legitimate charities that you know and love and donate to them.
E-mails – Do not buy anything offered in an unsolicited E-mail. During the holiday season, you will see many E-mails with offers too good to be true and they are. Don’t click on any links in these E-mails. They will lead you to a fake Web site used to collect your personal information, credit or debit card information and/or download malware onto your computer. Instead, open a new browser and type in the legitimate Web address of the business you want to go to.
Only shop on secure Web sites – Before typing in your credit card information into a Web site, look to be sure that it is secure. The Web site’s URL should change from http://www to https://www. The added “s” shows that the page is secure. You may also see a padlock symbol either on the top or bottom of the home page. If the site is not secure, leave it and do not give them any information.
Pickpockets – Women need to be very aware of their purses and to be sure they are completely closed and held up against their body under their arm. Men need to move their wallets into their front pants pocket and be aware of it all the time. Don’t assume that the person bumping into you is just an accident. Also, make photocopies of all your credit cards – front and back – and store those copies in a secure place. If your wallet gets stolen, you’ll have a copy of the account number and customer service number to report the theft.
Missed delivery notice – You may get a notice on your front door saying that an attempt was made to deliver a package to your home and that you need to call the number listed. One of two things can happen if you call the number. You may sit on hold listening to music for a long time as very high “premium line” or international long distance rates are being charged to your phone bill. Or, someone answers the call but asks you to provide many personal details about yourself. They tell you that this is for verification, but it’s actually to steal your identity.
FedEx/UPS delivery scam – This is similar to the missed delivery notice, but instead you will receive an E-mail appearing to be from a delivery service. The E-mail will say that your package can’t be delivered and you’ll need to insure it before they can send it out for delivery. The thieves are hoping you will click on the link and provide the requested credit card information to pay for the insurance. When you do, they go shopping with your credit card info. Legitimate delivery service providers ask the sender if they want packages insured when they are sent, not after the fact and insurance is never required.
E-card scams – A thief loads phony E-cards with links that can include viruses and malware. It may even hijack your E-mail account in order to send out more cards to your database of E-mail addresses to further spread the virus. Contact anyone that sends you a holiday card to verify that they did send it.
Gift cards – Only buy gift cards from stores themselves. Do not ever buy from an individual selling them because they are usually stolen empty gift cards that were never activated at the register.
eBay and Craigslist – Scammers are on these sites during the holidays looking to take advantage of you. Only deal with people locally and meet them in person.
Naming a star after you – There are companies that, for a fee, will send you a professional certificate with the name and location of a star that has been named after the person of your choice. It will even appear in the star registry, so they say. However, stars are named by the International Astronomical Union and they don’t name stars after the public. Save your money.
Dangerous holiday downloads – You may be offered free screen savers, animations, and other things all loaded with computer viruses and malware. Anytime you download something from an unknown source you risk the chance of getting them. Only download from sites that you know are legitimate.
Holiday work – Beware of offers for high paying jobs and/or work at home jobs. They usually ask for personal information before they send you details. If you give them personal information, it usually leads to identity theft. Other times they want you to pay for the details. Either way, stay away from it.
Smishing – You get a text message from your bank or what looks like a legitimate source saying that there is a problem you need to clear up. If you call the phone number listed in the text, thieves will try and get you to give them your account number, password and other personal information. They will tell you that it’s to verify who you are. Don’t respond to the text but instead call the business using a legitimate phone number you have looked up.
Foreign lottery scams – Thieves will contact you to tell you that you’ve won a foreign lottery and ask you to pay for processing fees or taxes before getting your money. Legitimate lotteries do not ask winners to pay up-front fees.
Popular items sold out – Every year there are items that are very popular and everyone wants them. When they sell out, that’s usually it until next year sometime. Thieves know this and once popular items are sold out, they’ll start marketing that they have some available. It’s really a scam. To protect yourself, only buy from legitimate sources, no matter how bad you want the item.
Computer security – It’s very important that your computer has a security program that protects your computer from viruses and other malicious things. Norton, McAfee and others are perfect for this but you must also install a program that protects against spyware and malware. For personal computers, Microsoft Security Essentials works well and it’s free. Once installed it conducts regular scans.
These tips have been brought to you by the Pennsylvania Association of Notaries (PAN) and our Identity Theft Seminar.