Tips to Avoid Getting Scrooged by a Holiday Scam

The holidays are supposed to be joyful, so don’t get scammed by a Scrooge out to steal your hard-earned cash (or your very identity).

Keep more money in your pocket to spend on your loved ones or to save for yourself by stashing away the following tips, and you’ll keep the “Happy” in “Happy Holidays.”

Do your homework before you buy.

The Better Business Bureau reports that every holiday, it hears from shoppers who’ve been scammed by sellers over a “deal” that seemed too good to be true – and was. If you’re suspicious at all, you can look up a company’s business review at www.bbb.org. If a business doesn’t have a physical address or phone number, a red flag should go up. You may be sending your credit card info to little more than a scammer with a  P.O. Box!

Scrutinize your charities.

It’s easy to fall for a scam that’s dressed up as a “do-gooder” group. Make sure your charity of choice is on the up and up, by checking out the BBB’s “Standards for Charity Accountability” website at http://www.bbb.org/us/standards-for-charity-accountability/ or visit www.give.org.

Be aware.

Packed shopping centers and bustling parking lots give ample opportunity for thieves to take advantage of preoccupied consumers. When making your payment, cover your charge cards and the key pad when entering your P.I.N., so thieves can’t simply look over your shoulder and steal your info. Keep your cards close to your body and in a safe place to avoid your wallet being snatched. And be careful if storing bags in your car while shopping. Parking lot burglary is common during the holiday season.

When in doubt, don’t click.

Thanks to the world residing online – on our laptops, tablets and smartphones – cyber thieves are rampant and can do significant damage to your credit. Be a smart online shopper. Avoid any “e-cards” or “messages” from suspect senders around the holidays. Often, these emails are simply “phishing scams” to access your personal data under the guise of being legit companies like FedEx, bearing supposed links to package tracking info. If you’re unsure of any such attachments, links or emails, don’t open them or tempt fate.

Be wary of strange texts or phone calls.

Thanks to the prevalence of smartphones, thieves aren’t just stalking you via email or the web. The government’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reports that many times unsuspecting consumers will receive texts or phone calls from scammers disguised as well-known retailers, calling to “verify” a credit card number you used for a purchase or directing you to update your personal account information at a specified link. Never give your personal information over the phone, even from a caller claiming to represent your bank or a well-recognized business you patronize. You can log directly on to said retailer or financial institution’s website to log into your account, and handle any updates that way. Or, if it’s a truly legit call, you’ll be able to call back via the customer service line at a number you know and trust.

Check and double-check that web address.

Before you buy online, be sure that you are actually sending your money to the company in lieu of a service or product – and that you’re not sending your financial and personal details to a scammer. For some time now, thieves have developed often sophisticated websites that look and “act” like the “real thing” – fake websites for major retailers and known brands. Type in the URL for the company, as opposed to opening a link from an email.

Gone are the days of protecting yourself solely from the pickpocket stalking the stores for unsuspecting shoppers. Just as technology has become more sophisticated, so have the criminals, and they always seem to be one step ahead of the rest of us.

For information on the latest scams and, accordingly, tips to prevent from getting Scrooged this season, check out the FBI’s New E-Scams and Warnings page at http://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/e-scams.

Smart shoppers, carry on!