Beware of Holiday Scams

Beware of Holiday Scams

The holidays bring family and food and gifts… but they also bring scammers who want to steal your money and personal information.

Be aware of the tricks these scammers use to fool you. They present themselves as legitimate businesses or government agencies on the Internet, over emails, texts and phone calls, and in person.

Keep these tips in mind if anyone contacts you:

  • DO NOT reply to suspicious texts.
  • DO NOT ANSWER unfamiliar phone numbers.
  • Government agencies such as the IRS, Social Security, DEA, and even companies such as Amazon will NEVER call you or text you. Scammers try to scare you by saying they are from these agencies and say you or family members owe them money.
  • NEVER give out ANY personal information.
  • NEVER send money to anyone unless you have verified the person..
  • Friends and Family Credit Union and other financial institutions will never contact you to request your account number or information.
  • ALWAYS VERIFY that you are talking to a legitimate representative.
  • DOES IT SEEM SUSPICIOUS? It probably is!

Holiday Scams

Don’t let your holidays get runed by a seasonal scam

It’s beginning to look a lot like the Christmas. And while you are shopping for gifts online and in the stores, thieves are trying to scam you out of your money and your personal information.
These scams happen year-round, but some may use holiday-related hooks to try to lure you in throughout December.

Many holiday scams are phishing scams. They look like they are real offers or messages, but they are actually thieves masquerading as legitimate sources. The message usually instructs you to click a link, send money, pay in gift cards, or reveal your financial information. It often implies a sense of urgency to make you panic and act rashly.

The best defense is to be aware of scams and stay vigilant!

If you think that a message, email, text or phone call may be legitimate, find a verified contact number that you KNOW is correct and contact the company yourself to ask about it. Remember, scammers are tricky. They can make a link or email look like the real thing.

And a reminder: our credit union will NEVER contact you to ask for your account number. If in doubt, contact us with a number you know to be correct.

Phishing Emails or Texts

Phishing scams come in different forms. Some claim that your shopping accounts have been disabled, your credit or debit cards are frozen, or that you should personalize a letter to Santa Claus. Be careful if you are asked to click a link, open an attachment or share personal or financial information.

Account Issue Scams

Scammers target consumers with the threat that their account has been deactivated, or that there is some kind of issue. Typically, these issues are with accounts that are popular during the holidays (Amazon, PayPal, etc.). Don’t panic and click the link. Go directly to your account to check on it.

Spoofed Shopping Sites

Some scammers create fake websites and social media posts that look like existing brands. These spoofed sites ask you to click links or order products you will never get. Meanwhile, they get your debit or credit card number, your name, and address.

 Package Tracking and Order Confirmation Scams

Many of us order gifts and other items online for delivery. And scammers know it!

Package scam messages look like they’re from a legitimate company or courier, such as the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, UPS and Amazon. They might even include a fake tracking link.
Beware! That fraudulent link could open your computer or phone to malware (software designed to gain unauthorized access and steal your information).

Scammers also use voicemail messages asking you to call a phone number about your delivery. These scammers then request money in return to deliver a package, such as a customs fee or tax. Or they use other tricks to fool you.

The best way to track delivery for your holiday packages is to go directly to your online shopping account (Amazon.com, etc.). And never pay someone for the delivery of your package if you’ve already paid when you made your purchase.

Did you get a text message with a shipment tracking code and a link to update your delivery preferences? It’s a scam. Learn more.

Delivery Failure Scams

We’ve learned of a phony delivery failure notification email making the rounds. It looks like it’s from the U.S. Postal Service — but it’s not. The email says you missed a delivery. But, it says, if you print the attached form and take it to your local post office, you can pick up your package and avoid penalties. The message might also include a link for more details.

Here’s the truth: the email is bogus and there is no package. And if you download the attachment or click on a link, you’re likely to end up with a virus or malware on your device.
Con artists often use the names and logos of familiar organizations to get under your guard. So how do you tell what’s legit and what’s a scam? Here are some ways to spot a bogus email:

  • It tells you to click on a link or download an attachment
  • It urges you to take immediate action
  • It asks you to “re-confirm” personal or financial information

Another sure sign an email is a scam? If you hover over the link in the email, it won’t show the official website of the supposed sender — in this case, the U.S. Postal Service website.
For more tips, check out our articles on phishing and malware. And if you have questions about a delivery by the U.S. Postal Service, visit usps.com or call 1-800-ASK-USPS.

Gift Card Scams

Someone might ask you to pay for something by putting money on a gift card, like a Google Play or iTunes card, and then giving them the numbers on the back of the card. If they ask you to do this, they’re trying to scam you. No real business or government agency will ever insist you pay them with a gift card. Anyone who demands to be paid with a gift card is a scammer. 

What is a Gift Card Scam?

Gift cards are for gifts, not for payments. As soon as someone tells you to pay them with a gift card, that’s a scam. Gift cards are popular with scammers because they’re easy for people to find and buy. They also have fewer protections for buyers compared to some other payment options. They’re more like cash: once you use a gift card, the money on it is gone.

If someone calls and asks that you pay them with gift cards, that’s a scammer calling. And once they have the gift card number and the PIN, they have your money.
Scammers may tell you different stories to get you to pay them with gift cards, but this is what usually happens:

  1. The caller says it’s urgent. They say you have to pay right away or something terrible will happen. They want to scare or pressure you into acting quickly, so you don’t have time to think or talk to someone you trust. Don’t pay. It’s a scam.
  1. The caller usually tells you which gift card to buy. They might say to put money on an eBay, Google Play, Target, or iTunes gift card. They might send you to a specific store — often Walmart, Target, CVS, or Walgreens. Sometimes they tell you to buy cards at several stores, so cashiers won’t get suspicious. And the caller might stay on the phone with you while you go to the store and load money onto the card. If this happens to you, stop. It’s a scam.

  2. The caller asks you for the gift card number and PIN. The card number and PIN on the back of the card let the scammer get the money you loaded onto the card. Don’t give them those numbers. It’s a scam. You’ll lose your money, and you won’t be able to get it back.

Spot the Scam

Only scammers try to convince you to pay with gift cards. If you know how to spot their tactics, you’ll be able to avoid the scam, and help others spot and avoid it. Here’s a list of common gift card scams and schemes:

  • The caller says they’re from the government — maybe the IRS or the Social Security Administration. They say you have to pay taxes or a fine. It’s a scam.
  • Someone calls from tech support, maybe saying they’re from Apple or Microsoft. They say there’s something wrong with your computer and you have to pay them to get it fixed. But it’s a lie.
  • You meet someone special on a dating website, but then they need money and ask you to help them. This romance scammer makes up any story to trick you into sending them gift cards. Stop. Never send money or gifts to anyone you haven’t met in person — even if they send you money first.
  • The scammer pretends to be a friend or family member in an emergency and asks you to send money right away — but not tell anyone. This is a scam. If you’re worried, hang up and call the friend or relative to check that everything is all right.
  • Someone says you’ve won a prize, but first, you have to pay fees or other charges with a gift card. Remember: no honest business or agency will ever make you pay with a gift card. But also — did you even enter that sweepstakes?
  • The caller says they’re from your power company, or another utility company. They threaten to cut off your service if you don’t pay immediately. But utility companies don’t work that way. It’s a scam.
  • You get a check from someone for way more than you expected. They tell you to deposit the check, then give them the difference on a gift card. Don’t do it. That check will be fake, and you’ll be out all that money.

What To Do If You Paid a Scammer With Gift Cards

If you paid a scammer with a gift card, tell the company that issued the card right away. Keep the card and any receipts you have.

Safely Buying and Using Gift Cards

Remember that gift cards are for gifts, not for payments. So if you buy gift cards to give away or donate:

  • Stick to stores you know and trust. Avoid buying from online auction sites because the cards may be fake or stolen.
  • Check it out before you buy it. Make sure the protective stickers are on the card and that they do not appear to have been tampered with. Also check that the PIN number on the back isn’t showing. Get a different card if you spot a problem.
  • Keep your receipt. This, or the card’s ID number, will help you file a report if you lose the gift card.

Report Fraud

If someone asks you to pay them with gift cards:

  • Report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Report it even if you didn’t pay. Your report helps law enforcement stop scams.
  • Check out the charity before you donate. Search online with the name of the charity plus words like “complaint,” “review,” or “scam.” Ask how much of your donation will go to the work of the charity (versus, say, fundraising). Learn more by seeing what organizations like the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, CharityWatch and Candid say about how a charity does its business and spends its money.
  • Double-check the name. Scammers sometimes use names that sound like real charities that you know and trust.
  • Don’t be rushed. Scammers love to pressure you to make fast decisions and pay them. But take it slow. Real charities will be happy to get your donation when you’re ready.
  • Avoid donations by cash, gift card, cryptocurrency, or money transfer service — if they demand to be paid that way. That’s how scammers ask to be paid. Your safer bet is to pay by credit card.
  • Report charity scams at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Your report can help people in your community protect themselves from charity scams and other types of fraud. The FTC uses reports like yours to investigate and bring law enforcement cases.

Check out ftc.gov/charity for more information, including on giving through online platforms.


Avoid Scams When You Travel

You may get a call, a text message, or a flyer in the mail. Or maybe you’ll see an online ad promising free or low-cost vacations. Scammers and dishonest companies are often behind these offers. You may end up paying hidden fees — or worse: after you pay, you might find out it’s all a scam.

Common Travel Scams

Free vacations
You’ve probably seen ads online for “free” vacations. Or you may have gotten emails, calls, or text messages saying you’ve won a vacation, even though you never entered a contest. If you respond to these offers, you’ll quickly learn that you have to pay some fees and taxes first — so your “free” vacation isn’t really free. A legitimate company won’t ask you to pay for a free prize.

Robocalls about vacation deals
You might get robocalls offering you vacation deals at a discounted price. Robocalls from companies trying to sell you something are illegal unless the companies got written permission, directly from you, to call you that way. If someone is already breaking the law by robocalling you without permission, there’s a good chance it’s a scam. At the very least, it’s a company you don’t want to do business with.

International travel document scams
You might see sites that claim to be able to help you get an international travel visa, passport, or other documents. These sites are just copycats of the U.S. Department of State website. But these sites charge you high fees, including fees for services that are free on the U.S. Department of State’s website.

International driving permit scams
An international driving permit (IDP) translates your government-issued driver’s license into 10 languages. Scammers create websites to sell fake IDPs, or try to sell them to you in person or some other way. If you buy a fake IDP, you’ll be paying for a worthless document. But, even worse, you also could face legal problems or travel delays if you’re detained for using it to drive in a foreign country. Only the U.S. Department of State, the American Automobile Association (AAA), and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) are authorized to issue IDPs.

Vacation home scams
These days, it’s easy to connect directly with property owners who advertise their vacation homes online. But scammers are also trying to get your rental booking. For example, they hijack real rental listings and advertise them as their own, so when you show up for your vacation, you find out that other people are also booked for the same property. You have no place to stay, and your money is gone. Other scammers don’t bother with real rentals — they make up listings for places that aren’t really for rent or don’t exist.

Charter flight scams
You may get a flyer in the mail, see an ad, or hear from someone in your community about an offer to travel by private plane to some place you’d like to go. The offer may even include lodging and sightseeing tours. You think you’re signing up for a charter flight and vacation package, but after you pay, you find out it’s all a scam. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Special Authorities Division maintains a list of approved public charter flights. If the charter filing is not approved by DOT before the package is sold, you’re probably dealing with a dishonest charter operator.

Signs of a Scam

  • Scammers say it’s a “free” vacation that you have to pay for. They often try to get your attention by saying you won something, but then making you pay to get it. If you have to pay, it’s not really free — and all those fees and taxes can add up to hundreds of dollars.
  • Scammers don’t give specific details about the travel offer. The offer says you’ll stay at a “five-star” resort or go on a “luxury” cruise ship. But if the organizer can’t or won’t give you more specific details, like the address of the hotel or the cruise company’s name, walk away. 
  • Scammers say the only way to pay for your vacation rental is by wire transfer, gift card, or cryptocurrency. This is how they ask you to pay because once they’ve collected the money, it’s almost impossible to get it back. That’s a scam, every time.
  • Scammers pressure you to make a quick decision about a vacation package or rental. If someone says you have to decide whether to buy a travel package or rent a vacation property right away, don’t do it. Scammers want to rush you. So move on and find another option.
  • Scammers advertise premium vacation properties for super cheap prices. Is the rent a lot less than comparable rentals? Below-market rent can be a sign of a scam. 

3 Ways To Avoid Travel Scams

  • Don’t sign or pay until you know the terms of the deal. Get a copy of the cancellation and refund policies before you pay. If you can’t get those details, walk away. Say “no thanks” to anyone who tries to rush you without giving you time to consider the offer.
  • Do some research. Look up travel companies, hotels, rentals, and agents with the words “scam,” “review,” or “complaint.” See what others say about them before you commit. Also, check that the address of the property really exists. If the property is located in a resort, call the front desk and confirm their location and other details on the contract.
  • Don’t pay with wire transfers, gift cards, or cryptocurrency. Dishonest travel package promoters might tell you to pay in one of these ways, but that’s a sure sign of a scam. If you pay with wire transfers, gifts cards, or cryptocurrency and there’s a problem with what you paid for, you’ll lose your money, and there’s likely no way to track it or get it back.

Sources: ftc.gov, Friends and Family Credit Union