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The FBI even issues warnings about it. Fortunately for most, there are simple common-sense steps you can take to reduce your risk of becoming a victim of a scam or fraud.
Here are some of the most common shopping scams and ways to avoid them.
Have you ever received an email from FedEx, UPS, DHL or the U.S. Postal Service regarding a package that you didn’t order? If not, consider yourself lucky. This is one of the most common types of electronic fraud during the holidays. The emails will typically ask you to confirm delivery information or notify you that a package could not be delivered. Do not click on any link, reply or forward an email that appears to be from a courier for a package you didn’t order. Clicking on a link could expose your computer to a virus or tracking software. Additionally, courier services don’t ask for account numbers, passwords, personal or financial information, or request money.
If you need to check a delivery, your best bet is to go directly to the courier website or use the company’s app on your mobile device.
As gift cards have become more popular, they have also become an increasing target for scam artists. One scam involves a phone call that asks people to make payments for taxes, utilities, credit cards, medical bills, or even charitable donations. You are asked to purchase a gift card and then provide the PIN (personal identification number) on the card over the phone. The caller will then use your card information to make a purchase, leaving you with a worthless card. Another scam technique for thieves is to steal gift card information (but not the card itself) from a store. The thief takes a gift card from the rack, records the information, attaches a replacement strip over the PIN, and returns the card intact to the display. The thief monitors the card online, and when it’s activated or money is loaded, they quickly use it before you do.
There are other gift card scams, including phony gift cards, stolen gift cards, and legitimate gift cards purchased using stolen credit cards. However, the best way to avoid those scams is to purchase a gift card directly from a merchant’s customer service counter, cashier, or website, and not from display racks. If you do pick up a card from a display rack, ask the cashier to activate the card and verify the balance before you purchase.
Online shopping scams are big this time of year, and one of the most prevalent involves fake websites and mobile apps. Bogus emails are frequently used to drive people to a fake website, but you can also be steered to one from a popup ad. Also, fake apps that appear to be from retailers will compromise your shopping experience.
The best way to identify a fake website is to read the URL, the address in your web browser that begins with http:// or https:// and typically ends in .com or.net. URLs that are very short and don’t adequately identify the website can be suspicious. Also, if a URL is overly complicated, includes a lot of hyphens, or seemingly random numbers or letters, be cautious. If the website offers deals that seem too good to be true, it probably is. Another tipoff that a website might be fake is if it includes spelling mistakes and incorrect grammar. Emails that try to impersonate legitimate retailers will often come from email service providers (e.g. Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo!, etc.) instead of including the domain of the retailer itself. When making the actual purchase, look for “https” (with an “s”) in the URL – it signifies more secure data transmission that encrypts information being sent.
You’ll also find that you receive offers to download apps that will grant access to special or exclusive deals that you can’t get anywhere else. Fraudulent apps have grown more common as more people shop on their phone or tablet. For maximum safety, always use a retailer’s native app, and download it directly from a recognized app source, like Apple’s App Store or the Google Play store.
Social media is ripe for shams, counterfeit offers, and tricks to get you to visit fake websites. You can reduce your risk by ignoring offers and links from third-party social media accounts made on behalf of known retailers. Also, make sure you follow the official, verified account of your favorite business. You can usually find the links to their Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts directly from their websites.
Sadly, another unfortunate target of holiday scams are phony e-cards – you know, those holiday greeting cards you receive via email that play music and wish you Happy Chanukah or Merry Christmas. Those are fun to send and receive. However, an e-card that looks authentic may, once you click on it, display obscene images, or contain a virus or spyware. If you have any reason to suspect it could be phony, do not click on it.
There are signs you can look for to help spot phony e-cards. Any e-card with spelling mistakes, errors (e.g. it says you sent the card, not received one), from an unknown sender, or contains an attachment could be trouble.
If you really want to see the cute e-card video with your family’s or friends’ faces superimposed on dancing animated characters, compose a separate email directly to the sender and ask them to verify that they sent an e-card and verify the e-card company that they used to send it. If the sender confirms, then you’re probably safe.
If you shop on a fake website, find that your personal or financial information may have been compromised, or otherwise think you may have been scammed, don’t wait. Call the number on the back of your credit card and report your concern. If you are a Nuvision member, visit your local branch, contact us online, or call 800-444-6327. Watch your bank statements and credit report.
When shopping during the holiday season, don’t rush. Take your time and read carefully. If you’re suspicious that an email, website, app or social media account may not be what it purports to be, don’t click on anything. A little skepticism can be your best defense. Knowing the most common types of holiday shopping scams and the steps you can take to reduce your risk can make your holiday season much less stressful.
You can avoid common shopping scams and keep your holidays happy with a little knowledge and common sense.