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Tis’ the season for giving. And taking. As more Christmas shopping is done online, scammers are coming up with clever ways to con you out of your hard-earned dollar. The days of worrying about the fraudulent cashier’s check in the mail are long gone. Scammers are getting more clever and sophisticated in the ruse to trick you into giving them your money. With Black Friday and Cyber Monday on the horizon, scammers are deploying the latest tricks of their trade to catch you in the midst of a post-Thanksgiving food coma. Experts warn that now is the time to be most vigilant while taking advantage of those annual holiday deals. 

For many families, the 2020 holiday season will see tighter budgets and more gifts purchased online. In fact, according to Nerd Wallet, it is estimated that seven in 10 shoppers intend to do all of their shopping online this year. As you begin your holiday shopping, it is important that you stay vigilant in making purchases from reputable websites. Now more than ever, scammers are waiting for you to make a mistake with your private financial information. Today, there are all kinds of scams—and the vast majority of them happen online.

What holiday scams should I watch out for this year?

It isn’t just Boomers getting scammed out of their hard-earned dollars. According to the Federal Trade Commission, millennials are more likely to report being victims of financial scams. In fact, reports of fraud are 25% more likely to come from millennials than persons over 40. In the past two years alone, millennials have lost almost half-a-billion dollars to online scams. 

While you’re in the midst of online shopping this year, it’s important to protect your identity and your financial information. Scammers will use your willingness to go to the ends of the earth to buy that special gift for a loved one against you.

Secret Sister

Secret Sister is a social media scam that has been going around for the last couple of years. The way the scam works is simple. Facebook users recruit “sisters” with the promise that they could receive up to 36 gifts. The catch is, they have to buy a $10 gift for a stranger on the internet. Users provide your name, address and email. Then recruit friends to join. If you think it sounds like a pyramid scheme you’re right. 

Users don’t know who they’re buying gifts for or whether those internet strangers will even return the favor. In addition, giving personal information such as your home address could open you up to cybersecurity breaches. 

Elaborate fake websites

Whenever you receive an email saying that your account has been compromised and requires immediate attention such as a password, BE. SKEPTICAL. Often, these emails will contain links to elaborate web pages that closely mimic major websites such as Apple, Amazon, Google, Banks or even social media sites. These websites are typically part of phishing scams. Phishing scams lure users to these fake websites that capture login information, account numbers, credit cards and more. 

Google Voice Code

Whether you’re cleaning out your kids’ playroom to make room for new toys or just selling used items online to get a little spending money, you’re likely to run into the Google Voice Code scam. The Google Voice scam isn’t your average scam to take your money. To understand this scam, it’s important to understand how Google Voice works. 

Google Voice is Google’s phone system. To set up an account, you must first link your cell phone number to your Google Phone number. During the setup process, Google will send a six-digit code for verification. Once you receive the verification code, you finish the setup process and your phone is connected to your Google phone number. 

This scam works by a scammer finding your information online through an ad or even a dating site. They will then contact you pretending to be interested in the item you’re selling and tell you that they need to send the six-digit code so that they can verify you are a real person and the ad is real. This is part of the scam. The scammer will use the code to verify your phone number and will use it to scam others. As a result, if or when someone catches on to the scam, the phone number will be traced back to you.  

Call spoofing/ Robocalls

We’ve all gotten tired of receiving calls from random numbers throughout the day. There’s even been government action in an effort to limit robocalls. Robocalls are often scammers looking to find working numbers. If you answer the phone, they may ask to push a button to stop calls or reply yes. They will use these responses to make unauthorized charges on accounts.

However, during the holiday season, you may get calls from spoofed numbers asking you to donate to the local police or fire department. More often than not, these are scammers. It’s recommended that you verify the name of the caller and the organization they are calling from. In addition, if you feel compelled to donate, send a check instead of giving your credit or debit card number.

It’s a good rule of thumb to never give your credit or debit card number to anyone who calls you.

“Car warranty” scams (mail or phone)

Cars are a popular Christmas gift for spouses and newly-minted teen drivers. However, if you’ve purchased a new car off the lot within recent years then you may already be familiar with the contract service scam. If you get a phone call or a letter in the mail saying that your extended car warranty is about to expire. Use caution.

Car warranty scams attempt to trick consumers into buying useless vehicle service contracts. Often, these service contracts cost anywhere from $1,300 to nearly $2,900. A salesperson will convince a victim that the warranty provides bumper to bumper coverage, including engine troubles. However, any attempt to make use of the warranty is stonewalled and refunds for the purchase of the warranty are virtually impossible. Despite government efforts to crack down on car warranty scams, it remains alive and well. 

The letters victims receive in the mail are often convincing. They look like they come from a legitimate source such as a dealership or manufacturer. But these are not warranties, they are service contracts often sold by third parties. Warranties come with a new car and are included in the purchase price. Used cars usually come with some type of warranty coverage as well. 

Fake job offers

If you were laid off, then you know that finding a job doesn’t stop just because the holidays are coming. Sadly, scammers know no bounds and everyone—even those seeking employment—are potential victims. The typical indicator of a fake job is a job that is too good to be true. Further, if a job is asking you to pay them for equipment or anything else, it’s likely a scam. When employers approach you to hire you for a job that you didn’t apply to, but pays extremely well, allows you to work from home or has unlimited PTO, be wary. Job offers like these are hard to come by and they certainly won’t walk into your inbox. You could very well end up with your identity stolen or lose money in the process. 

Romance scams

Romance scams differ from Romeo Pimps. The goal of a romance scam is to scam a person out of money by striking up a serious romantic relationship. These relationships often begin on dating sites, apps or social media sites like Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. On average, victims lose around $2,600 on romance scams, with people over 70 losing an average of $10,000. This scam works by building up the trust of their target by talking or chatting with them several times a day. Eventually, the scammers will make up a story and ask for money. 

Romance scammers will tell lies about why they’re unable to talk over video chat or meet up. For example, a scammer might say that they are:

  • Working on an oil rig
  • In the military
  • Traveling for work
  • A doctor for an international organization

Romance scammers will ask their target to pay for plane tickets because they’ve lost their wallet. Or pay customs fees, visas or other travel documents. They’ll ask for payments through money wire or gift cards from Amazon, Google Play, iTunes or Steam. In addition, they may even transfer a large sum of money to your checking account and tell you to send the money to other people. 

Cheap products

This is a different kind of scam, and it’s particularly easy to fall for during the holiday season. Scammers will pretend to be legitimate online sellers, with either a fake website or fake ad for a genuine retailer. The sites will offer luxury, name brand items such as clothing, jewelry or electronics at very low prices. Sometimes, you will receive the item you paid for, but as a very cheap knock off or you will receive nothing at all. 

While many people believe Amazon to be safe to make purchases, there are third party vendors on the site that sell homemade or cheap products. It’s important to scrutinize everything.

Sending money then asking for it back

This is a scam that is affecting a lot of younger people who use payment apps like CashApp, Venmo or Paypal to easily transfer money among friends and family. A scammer will send a significant amount of money and then immediately request it back citing an emergency situation and desperately needing the money back quickly. 

What are the warning signs of a scam?

Many of us believe that we can’t be duped. However, making this errant assumption is what online thieves depend on. By following common-sense tips, you can prevent your personal data from being compromised online. 

In addition, you can avoid potential scams by learning how to spot them altogether. 

  • Grammatical errors. Legitimate businesses have several checks before an email is sent out. This means that were will be little to no grammatical errors. If sentence structure is strange or there are obvious or even less obvious typos, you’re likely not receiving legit communication from the company you do business with. 
  • Strange URLs or email addresses. The best way to spot a phishing scam is to pay attention to who the email comes from and the website address. Cross-check the URL or links in the email you received against the legitimate website. Further, if you suspect you’re being phished, close the screen and contact the legitimate business using a phone number from the website you went to. 
  • Gift card payments. No legitimate business is going to ask you to pay in gift cards. 
  • Strange phone numbers. It’s tough not to do, especially if you are in the middle of a job search or expecting a call from your local doctor, but don’t answer calls from strange numbers. Ever. 
  • Know if you’ve been compromised. A good way to know if you’re a target is to find out if your email and passwords have been compromised. You can go to the following websites to check if your email has been compromised:

What can I do if I believe I have been scammed? 

It is understandable to feel overwhelmed if you have fallen victim to a holiday scam. However, what is important is to act quickly to fix the situation.

Contact your bank: If you have paid using your credit or debit card, contact your bank immediately and explain that you have been a victim of fraud. Ask for the transaction to be canceled and for your money back. 

File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC): If you decide to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, you are helping others from falling victim to the same practices.  Once you have completed filing the report, the FTC will provide the next steps on how to protect yourself, such as ways to get your money back. 

Freeze your credit report: If your identifying information has been stolen as part of the holiday scam, it may be in your best interest to freezer your credit reports immediately. Doing so is free, and potential creditors won’t be able to access information required to approve of new credit application. This will help with the prevention of scammers from opening up new accounts in your name.

The Carlson Law Firm Cares

It’s difficult to recover after a holiday scam. The aftermath of a scam can be a stressful time, especially if you’ve fallen behind on bills. For this reason, it is important to remain vigilant during the holiday season. If you find yourself struggling with debt, contact The Carlson Law Firm. We can help you with your next step to remove the dark cloud of debt from over your head.

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