Tis the season, they say, but what they don’t say is it’s also the season to be scammed. Holiday shopping time is the perfect time for unscrupulous people to exploit peoples holiday cheer to gain access to accounts, steal identities and do other things that should earn them a lump of coal in their stocking.
So what do you do to protect yourself? What types of scams should you be on the lookout for?
“Your Order Has Shipped/Problem With Your Order/Confirm Your Order”
This one’s a popular one because it takes advantage of people not wanting to “mess up” a holiday gift. This e-mail may look like it comes from a popular merchant (Amazon, Walmart, etc) or may be one you’ve never heard of, and will ask you to confirm or view an order. Once you click the link you are brought to a website which may look legitimate, but is actually designed to steal your login information or collect credit card information.
How do you protect yourself? Simple: If you think it’s legitimate, log in to the website by typing the merchants website in to the browser manually – not clicking on the link. If there is an order there, you’ll see it where you normally see your orders (usually under My Account or Orders).
“A Gift Is Waiting For You/Free Holiday Offer”
This one exploits the warm feeling you get when you receive a gift, and as we all know, everyone enjoys getting gifts. If a person sends you an eGift or virtual gift card you may get an e-mail with a link to claim it. You may also get an e-mail claiming to be a free holiday gift for being a valued customer or long time member of an organization.
How do you protect yourself? This one is a bit harder to protect yourself from, but it’s a good idea to mention the gift to the person who allegedly sent it. If the gift was from a friend, call or text them and say “I just got an e-mail with an iTunes gift card from you, is this really from you?.” You can also hover your mouse over the link and verify the address goes to the merchant’s known domain name (Apple gift cards should go to Apple.com, Amazon to amazon.com, if one goes to amazon.somenamehere.com, then that’s not really Amazon.) For merchant gifts, call or e-mail the merchant to verify that the offer is real.
“This Price Is Too Good To Be True/90% Off Sale Going On Now”
This scam exploits our greed and most people’s enjoyment of getting an amazing deal on something. You will see an offer for a 47″ LED TV that usually sells for $1499 for $149, or a high end digital SLR camera that normally sells for $799 for $229. You may also see e-mails claiming an amazingly high discount off listed prices on a website that’s given back by mail later or returned to you 30 days after purchase.
How do you protect yourself? If a deal is “too good to be true”, it probably isn’t true. If a merchant has a limited loss leader for a retail store or a website (where they sell an item at cost), then that’s possibly true, but expect a very limited number and needing to be the first few online to get one.
If an item is sold so far below every other vendor – even below the reasonable cost to make the item – something is probably up. The best way to protect yourself here is to be suspicious and only go for “amazing deals” from trusted vendors you know and have already done business with.
A good bit of common sense and reasonable suspicion will protect you when shopping this holiday season, but don’t let these few bad apples spoil your fun.
P.S. When shopping this holiday season, don’t forget those less fortunate. A gift for a needy child can make a world of difference. I support Toys for Tots  every year, because the children don’t choose to be in the situation they are in. A great idea I started a few years back is to donate a gift for someone and give them a card letting them know what you donated for them and to who. It lets them feel good about the donation, you feel good about the donation and the act helps a needy person.