Steve Weisman is a lawyer, college professor, author, and one of the country’s leading experts in cybersecurity, identity theft, and scams. See Steve’s other Con Watch articles.
Scammers and identity thieves are hard at work trying to steal your holiday season. After all, it is 2020, so how could we not expect that to be the case? Here are the grinchiest holiday scams with my tips on how to avoid becoming a victim.
1. Beware of Customer Service Calls
Scammers posing as customer service representatives for companies such as Amazon are calling people and telling them that the item they ordered is out of stock. As an apology for the inconvenience, they tell you that their company wants to add an additional amount to your refund. All they need is your bank account information in order to have the funds wired. Unfortunately, if you provide this information, your bank account will be looted.
Whenever you receive a phone call, you can never be sure who is really calling you. Through a technique called “spoofing” a scammer can manipulate your Caller ID so that the call appears to come from a legitimate source. Never give personal information over the phone to anyone whom you have not called. If you think the call could be legitimate, hang up and call the real company to confirm if there actually was an issue with your order or if the call was a scam.
2. Don’t Use Your Debit Card
Never use your debit card when shopping in either a brick-and mortar-store or online. Instead use your credit card. If your credit card is stolen and used for fraudulent purchases, the law protects you from liability over $50 and, quite frankly, I have never seen a credit card company hold an innocent victim responsible for any amount of theft. On the other hand, if you do not promptly notify your bank that your debit card has been used for fraudulent purchases, you can potentially lose your entire bank account.
3. Make Sure That Website Is Legit
Make sure you are shopping on the websites of legitimate retailers. Sophisticated scammers have set up counterfeit websites of popular retailers such as Walmart and Target that lure you into providing them with your credit card information and getting nothing in return. If you are looking for a particular retailer through Google or another search engine, note that some scammers are able to manipulate search rankings so their sham websites appear at the top. You can quickly confirm that you are at the correct website by checking the web address at whois.com, where you can enter the URL and find out who actually owns the website. When your apparent Walmart website is shown to be owned by someone in North Korea, you can be pretty sure that it’s a fake.
4. Watch Out for Malvertising
Malvertising is the name for malicious code in online ads that can download malware to your phone or computer. The malware might be anything from ransomware to a keystroke logging program that can be used to steal your personal information. Unfortunately, malvertising turns up on the websites of legitimate retailers, and there is no way to determine if an ad is dangerous just by looking at it. Making the problem even worse is the fact that while some malicious ads require you to click on the ad to download the malware, some more sophisticated types of malvertising can be automatically downloaded onto your computer merely by going to an infected website. The best way to avoid this problem is to install ad blockers on your phone and computer.
5. Scrutinize That Charity
This is a time of the year when people contribute to charities, and certainly during the Coronavirus pandemic there is no shortage of people in need. Crooks may contact you by phone, text message, or email posing as a charity, and there’s no way that to tell if it’s legitimate. As always, never give credit card or personal information to anyone who contacts you. The best way to avoid making a donation to a scammer is to investigate a charity before you give to it on charitynavigator.org. They will not only tell you if a charity is a scam, but also how much of what the charity collects actually goes towards its charitable work and how much goes to its own salaries and administrative costs.
6. Avoid Counterfeit Coupons
Coupons have largely migrated online. Unfortunately, there are many counterfeit coupons that gather information from you to steal your identity. Ignore the online coupons you see in emails, on social media, and elsewhere. Instead, go to the company’s website where you should find all of their legitimate coupons.
Scammers and identity thieves are hard at work to make the 2020 holiday season as difficult as the rest of the year has been, but by taking precautions you can keep these grinches from stealing your cheer.
Featured image: ART_Photo_DN / Shutterstock
Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now