Happy Holidays, You’ve Been Scammed!

Thieves abound this time of year. Do you know how to avoid them?

Most of the media attention this time of year focuses on shopping for the perfect gift, but the holidays are also primetime for charitable giving – nearly a quarter of all donations are made during these winter weeks, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics.

Yet most donors ask few questions before they write a check, and AARP has a warning for them: “There are many fundraisers, especially telemarketers, who keep 85-90 percent of the money they raise.”

AARP’s new report, Beware The Grinch, lists the most holiday scams you’re likely to face. It also says we’re way too confident in spotting these scams: “70 percent of consumers failed a quiz about how to stay safe from common holiday scams, and many are regularly engaging in risky behaviors which could leave them at risk of being victimized by con artists.”

 

Here’s are three costly holiday mistakes, and how to sidestep them…

Charity scams

Did that stat about charities keeping 90 percent of your donation shock you? Then this will be even more shocking: “Professional fundraisers are allowed to keep most of the money they raise for charity as long as they don’t lie about how much they keep.”

While that’s legal, there are many pure thieves out there who simply lie about running a charity at all.

What you should do: Ask questions like, “Are you a professional fundraiser? How will this money be spent?” Ask for a website, and never give money to a charity you’ve never heard of. Check out the charity at Charity Navigator, which monitors charities.

Gift card scams

These are among the most popular holiday gifts – 76 percent of Americans have given someone a gift card and 83 percent have received a gift card,” says Bankrate.

Not all gift cards are equally safe, AARP says…

Thieves sometimes hit store gift card racks, secretly write down or electronically scan the numbers off the cards, then check online or call the toll-free number to see if someone has bought the cards and activated them. As soon as a card is active, the scammers drain the funds. By the time you try to use the same card, the money is long gone.

What you should do: The safest way to buy gift cards is online, but if you buy them at a store, make sure they’re sold in a wrapping that covers their numbers – and make sure the wrapping hasn’t been tampered with.

Wi-Fi scams

Here’s a depressing statistic from AARP: 28 percent of holiday shoppers “say they will use public Wi-Fi to log in to their bank accounts.” Another 42 percent say they’ll use public Wi-Fi to make purchases.

What you should do: Listen to the experts who say, “Never use public Wi-Fi to access bank accounts or to buy products online. While it certainly helps to make sure the websites you’re visiting have https in front of their URLs, you can still have other personal information lifted by tech-savvy thieves.

Holiday shopping is tough enough without worrying about losing money to grinches. Check out Consolidated Credit’s Holiday Survival Guide for more tips.