Weekly Columns

Like much of 2020, this holiday season will look different, but for one group of individuals, not much has changed. Thieves who prey on vulnerable Americans seek an opening to strike. The holiday season, and all its added stresses, always makes for a perfect opportunity.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been highlighting holiday-related scams in a rather creative way this year. On its website, the agency has been promoting the “12 Days of Consumer Protection” in an effort to raise public awareness of common scams making the rounds. 

Here are three big hoaxes to guard against.

Phishing scams: Package shipments always spike during holidays. This year, as more families opt out of traveling, and gatherings shrink in size, more Christmas gifts will be delivered to homes across the country. Scammers are highly aware of this and seek to capitalize by disguising their phishing attempts as shipping alerts. These emails or text messages appear to be from the U.S. Postal Service—or other well-known shipping companies like UPS or FedEx—and have all the hallmarks of a legitimate notification. In reality, they are phishing emails that seek to infect your device with a virus or malware that steals your identity and passwords. 

Protect yourself from falling victim by avoiding links or attachments for any unexpected sender. Be sure to carefully inspect any incoming message that asks for action like this. Additionally, make sure you keep your software and operating system up to date so your device has the latest security updates.

Gift card scams: Gift cards, always a popular item this time of the year, are likely to be even more in demand since they are easy items to mail to friends and family. The issue here is that thieves may have gotten to that gift card before you even brought it to the cashier to purchase. 

Here’s how to avoid having that happen:

  • Buy gift cards from trusted sources to avoid getting fake or stolen cards.
  • Inspect gift cards before you buy to ensure it hasn’t been physically compromised.
  • Keep the receipt, or include it with the card, in case the recipient has a problem trying to redeem it.
  • Report a lost or stolen gift card immediately. 

Charitable scams: The spirit of the holiday season leads to an increase in charitable giving during December. This year has been difficult on us all and there are many in need of help, so we certainly want to encourage giving. Let’s do it safely. Don’t be rushed into giving over the phone, always research charities before you donate and do not give to anyone who asks you pay in cash, wire money or use a gift card. 

As we strive to keep ourselves and loved ones safe from COVID-19, let’s also remember to be protect each other from those who seek to exploit the chaos and cash in at the expense of the innocent. I encourage everyone to visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov and familiarize yourselves with these and other holiday scams so you can avoid being a target for criminals.