Don’t Get Tricked: Scams to Watch Out For This Holiday Season

Disclosure: We’re letting you know that this post contains sponsored links which The Smart Wallet receives compensation for, which may impact their order of appearance because talking about money should always be an honest discussion.

It’s the holiday season. You’re feeling warm and fuzzy, you want to do good things and spread cheer. Like… donating to charity, volunteering, doing random acts of kindess etc.

Of course that’s a wonderful sentiment and even better when you actually do it, but there are some bad people out there that’s banking on those “I’m feeling generous” feelings which can lead to your vulnerability.

In other words, the holiday season is ripe for scamming.

While it’s not entirely healthy to be looking over your shoulder all the time, you should at least be wary of holiday scams in general.

“Our data shows that younger people are more likely to be scammed,” Katherine Hutt, spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau, said. “Older people tend to lose more money, but younger people are actually more susceptible.” So don’t scoff and think you’re a savvy person, because that’s actually why we fall for it!

Viral Social Media Scams

You’ve probably seen it floating around on Facebook.

The too-good-to-be-true $75 coupon from Costco.

It looks like a digital coupon, and prompts you to click on it to input some personal information. Then you have to share it on your Facebook in order to redeem the “free” $75 coupon. This causes it to go viral, because everybody and their moms are sharing it.

Don’t do it. Costco has already announced that this is a scam and only shares legit deals from it’s website.

And it’s not just Costco too. Similar scam coupons have appeared for other big-box retailers like BestBuy and Walmart too.

Really, why would a large company give away free money just by you sharing a post? Unless it’s announced on their official and verified social page or website, be wary of everything else!

Secret Sister Gift Exchange

You’ve heard of Secret Santa, but “Secret Sister” is something else.

They’re disguised pyramid schemes and are illegal, so if you see anything online that’s similar to this structure, avoid at all costs.

It started in 2015 on Facebook, when someone posted that you’re guaranteed to get up to 36 gifts. All you had to do was send one $10 gift to someone and you’re encouraged to invite other people into this “fun” holiday exchange.

This type of scam requires “recruiting” other people for it to continue, just like a pyramid scheme. So as you’re providing your personal information like full name and mailing address, you’re also buying and shipping to strangers with no gifts in return.

Scammer Calls

I have T-Mobile and they have an included feature called Scam ID that I’ve turned on for myself and family members. This makes it so that if a scammer calls, the caller ID on my phone shows “Scam Likely” and I know immediately not to take the call. I’ll also block it afterwards.

Regardless, I typically don’t answer calls if it’s not a known number. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message!

According to the FTC, scammers averaged $430 per successful phone call last year, so you know they’re going to keep on pushing hard this season.

If you don’t have the Scam ID feature, here are things to know.

  1. Days and times when scam calls are popular: Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 – 6 PM. First Orion, a telecommunications provider, said that people are more likely to pick up a call during work hours because they think it might be work-related. So avoid picking up unknown calls during this time!
  2. Neighbor spoofing: These numbers look very similar to yours in that it has the same area code and probably the same first 3 digits. This makes it seem like your neighbor in the area is calling and you’re more likely to pick up.
  3. Fear and urgency tactics: Scammers use fear to get you to provide your personal information because you’re not thinking clearly but you should always be on red alert if you encounter this. Sometimes they’ll pretend to be the IRS saying that you have X amount in back taxes due but if you pay X amount now, it’ll be forgiven. Definitely a scam.

    If you’re unsure, do not give any personal information, hang up, and call the IRS directly to verify.

    Urgency examples include scammers calling to says you’ve won a free cruise and that you have X minutes to accept it. All you have to pay are the taxes and fees, sit through a timeshare presentation that could last 4-5 hours, and you could be left in a really crappy cruise room with aggressive methods to upgrade your current situation.

Peer-to-Peer Payment Apps

Apps like Venmo, Paypal, Zelle, etc., obviously make it very easy to pay and request money from family and friends. Even Facebook came out with their own version with Facebook Pay.

However there are some frauds to look out for when using this convenient service, especially for selling items.

  1. Fraudulent payments: Some scammers will connect a stolen credit card to the service and then look for people that are selling expensive items like a TV, a computer, etc. online. They “buy” the item using a peer-to-peer payment service, and the seller ships the item not realizing that the payment isn’t legit and loses the money and the item.
  2. You’ve been paid too much: Scammers with connected stolen credit cards would grossly overpay for an item. For instance, you were paid accidentally $2,000 for a $200 item because of a typo. So they’ll ask you to ship the item along with the extra money you were “paid,” causing you to lose out on the item and the money in the end.
  3. Canceled payments:  It can take a few days for transactions to process, so scammers have taken advantage of this by setting up transactions and cancelling before it completes. So by the time, the victim realizes they never got the money, the damage has already been done.

The safest way to use these digital wallet apps is to only use it for what they’re intended for, payment between family and friends. You can also link your money transfer to a credit card so you can be protected if things go south. If it’s a debit card or it links directly to a bank account, you won’t have the same protection. If you do use the apps to sell an item, make sure the money transfer gets deposited before shipping.

Email Scams

These are popular because if you’re on your mobile phone, it’s easy to tap into a link without thinking about it.

Scammy emails typically have bad grammar along with slightly off words. For instance the brand name might have an extra letter or missing a letter.

With the holiday season, a lot of tracking email scams will appear, disguising themselves as “track your package” types. It’s best to go straight to the retailer’s site to track a package status or the shipper’s website to input a tracking ID number.

On a desktop computer, you can also hover your mouse over the link to see if it looks malicious (usually a bunch of gibberish of letters and numbers) or if it’s legit.  These are prime spots for emails to hide links to viruses or other malware that can attack your computer.

And just because an email has the last 4 digits of your credit card, doesn’t automatically make it safe. Go straight to the retailer site to check if the email states you have a problem with your order.

Package Theft

As more people shop online, there are a ton of packages being shipped left and right. And this means, people can steal boxes right from your doorstep.

If possible, ship to your work location or to an Amazon locker where it requires a code to access (it’s free to use this method).

Credit Card Skimmers

As a rule of thumb, everytime you’re at an ATM, just tug on the part where you’re supposed to stick your card into to see if it’s wiggly or secure.

Scammers love placing “skimmers” at bank ATMs, gas locations, or anywhere that has a self-serve area to steal your credit card information.

As a safety precaution, you should also have credit alerts set up on your credit cards along with keeping track of your credit score. A free service like Credit Sesame would be a timesaver, if ever your score drops unexpectedly due to errors or fraud so you can fix it right away.

Good luck and stay vigilant and safe this holiday season!