Fraudsters Find Holidays the Season for Taking – From You

Searching online for the perfect holiday gift at a great price? With the holidays in full swing, consumers are urged to be vigilant about scams that are likely to surface as the risk for fraudulent activity sharply increases. Fraudsters are more focused on online scams since chip technology has made it more difficult for them to use your card at stores.

Beware of these common ways fraudsters try to deceive consumers during the holiday shopping season

Unfamiliar websites offering unrealistic discounts on brand-name merchandise or gift cards as an incentive to purchase a product

Discounts or incentives that sound too good to be true usually are. The holidays are not the ideal time to shop with unknown vendors, so shop only with familiar and trustworthy retailers. Watch out for look-alike websites by checking the web address for anything out of the ordinary like extra letters or misspelled words. Consumers should shop only on secure websites, which are indicated with a lock symbol and “https” in the web address. If you do make a purchase online, shop with a credit card rather than your debit card.

Be suspicious of unsolicited e-mails with links to amazing promotions. These deals typically include phishing links and compromise consumers’ information. To be sure you are not being referred out to a fraudulent site, pay attention to the URL on the bottom of your screen to make sure the domain remains the same. warns consumers to never wire money for an online purchase. Scammers offer money transfers to deliver a product or service, but after the wire transfer occurs, they receive nothing in return. Unfortunately, once the money is transferred, it cannot be recuperated.

Fake charities or misusing the name and brand of a well-known charity to get donation

Scammers will take advantage of consumers’ generosity during the holidays by creating fake charities or misusing the name and brand of a well-known charity to get contributions sent to them. Do your research before making before donating. Consumers are urged to validate the charity and its web address are legitimate before making a donation. There are many sound-alike charities or so similar it may differ only by one letter of a legitimate organization. Avoid charity scams by researching on CharityWatch or the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance. Never make a donation with your debit card, wire transfer or cash. It is best to use a check or credit card so the donation can be recovered if determined fraudulent.

Job offers that require upfront money to “train” or invest in a “start-up kit”

Many consumers would love to earn more money during the holidays, and retailers usually need additional help. Fraudsters take advantage of this concept by posting job opportunities that advertise “great money, no experience necessary, and/or work from home” – but require an upfront investment.  This is a temping opportunity to take advantage of, but is often a scam.

If you are contacted by a recruiter, ensure their email is from a legitimate company rather than a Gmail or Yahoo account. Never share personal information, pay an up-front fee to an employment agency or wire payments. Learn about valid job opportunities by visiting the retailer’s website and verify the company with the BBB.

Social media links that can be used to install malware or a virus on computers

Consumers are often targeted by scammers through social media, posting links that can be used to install malware or a virus on computers. If you believe you are a victim of a holiday phishing scam or malware campaign, consider filing a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), report the attack to police and file a report with the Federal Trade Commission. Additionally, close any financial account that may have been compromised and change any passwords you have exposed. Protect yourself with a more complex password with upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters.

Social media users should never accept friend requests from people they do not know, or click on a suspicious post. Social media users should also refrain from oversharing, such as the dates you will be on vacation or when you will be away at conference. This information gives scammers the knowledge of when your home will be vacant, which makes you more vulnerable to theft. Learn more about how you can better protect yourself on social media.

Disguised smartphone apps can steal personal information from your device

There are now malicious smartphone apps disguised as free games or messaging platforms, which can steal personal information and remotely control infected phones. The smartphones operate normally, but in the background, hackers steal basic phone functions like making calls and sending messages. Before downloading any app from an unknown source, look for third-party reviews.

Hawaii State FCU works to protect our members and families from fraud, and have many resources available. Scammers have many ways to deceive consumers, but with this knowledge you can be more aware and make smarter decisions. Monitor your transactions and statements regularly by downloading the free Hawaii State FCU Mobile App, and sign up for debit card transaction alerts using the free MobiMoney App.

Financial Educator, Jennifer Russo headshot

About Jennifer Russo

Jennifer Russo is Hawaii State FCU’s financial educator. She develops, markets and delivers financial resources to members under the credit union’s financial literacy initiative. She also works with community partners to develop strategies addressing the unique needs of Hawaii’s diverse population.

Jennifer has more than 15 years of experience in marketing and program management within the federal government and private industries. She received her Master of Business Administration from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, and holds a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and public relations from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

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