Did you know that with the exception of Christmas, people spend more money on Mother’s Day than any other holiday? The forecast for 2017 is $23.6 billion, and if you think scammers aren’t on the job, there’s a new marshmallow bridge spanning Loon Lake I’d to sell you a piece of.
In order, the most-gifted recipients of Mother’s Day sentimental swag are mothers and stepmothers, then wives, daughters, sisters or stepsisters, grandmothers, godmothers, and, for the overzealous beyond that familial range — friends.
Here are four scams you’ll want to avoid while you’re shopping.
1. Greeting Cards
These days, paper greeting cards cost anywhere from 50 cents to $8, but the average cost of a festive snail-mail missive is between $4 and $5. This explains the huge uptick in e-cards’ popularity. They are more environmentally friendly and cost nothing. Sounds like a win-win, right? Not exactly. This method of transmitting heartfelt sentiment — as with all new technology — has the potential to create a massive headache for the mothers in your life who have something coming to them.
Specifically, the problem with e-cards is that they open the door to fake e-cards. Most people on social media accept friend requests from strangers, and once those strangers are welcomed into the fold, they are allowed as friends to see friends of their new friends. They can figure out who among your relatives has kids, and send them a fake e-card in your name — one carrying malware that can steal the recipient’s identity or wreak havoc in cyberspace. One click can install a keystroke logger that turns any electronic device into a transmitter of login information (endangering every account, especially finances), rope devices into botnets that distribute spam or launch distributed denial of service attacks on major websites.
Remember the rule: Never trust, always verify. Ask the person who sent you the e-card, in a separate email, if they sent a card. Don’t click through without a response, because there is no way to know the URL and determine if it’s legitimate.
If you’ve fallen for this, be sure to check your credit for signs of mischief. You can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com. And, if you need to up your digital savvy, here are four tips for internet safety.
2. Fake Flowers
Nothing brightens a mother’s day more than a beautiful bouquet. If you are ordering online, make sure the URL matches the shop’s website if you clicked through from anything other than your own search results. Call the shop to make sure they are the real deal.
Another favorite ruse dating back some time: Selling fake coupons from stores that promise monthly or weekly flower delivery. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, most likely it is. Either work with a florist you know or find one near the recipient and conduct business with them directly.
3. More Fake Coupons
Fake coupons for saving are making the rounds again this year, most recently on Facebook, where people have been tempted by a $50 coupon redeemable at Lowe’s Home Improvement. If you click through, you’ll be asked to take a survey that solicits personal information and to post the offer on your Facebook timeline. Needless to say, the coupon is worthless.
“These coupons are not offers extended by Lowe’s,” the company wrote in response to customer questions on its Facebook page. “It is a scam and Lowe’s is unable to honor the coupon.”
Likewise, you should avoid a similar $75 coupon for Bed Bath & Beyond also making the rounds on social media. It’s a classic phishing scheme. When victims click on the link, they land on a fraudulent site that looks like the real thing, where consumers are prompted to enter sensitive personal information as well as their credit card number.
Bed Bath & Beyond similarly warned consumers that the coupons were fraudulent.
“We are sorry for any confusion and disappointment this fake coupon has caused,” it wrote on its Facemaiebook page. “We are partnering with Facebook to have these coupons removed. Thank you for your understanding!”
Facebook did not immediately respond to request to comment.
Caution should be used when it comes to any coupons, be they for a restaurant, an all-inclusive spa day or an in-home massage. It’s always best to call a favorite spot and make arrangements. There are plenty of crooks out there willing to represent those places to steal your personal or payment information.
4. Gift Cards
A whopping $46 billion was spent on gift cards last year, and numbers like that always attract scam artists. How it works: The scammer goes to the in-store sales rack and writes down the numbers on gift cards. They then call the customer service departments identified on the back of the cards to see if (and when) they have been activated. Like tax-related fraud, this scam succeeds or fails depending on how fast a transaction occurs, so if you get a gift card, it’s always best to use it as soon as you can. Otherwise, you may find it’s already been cashed in.
Finally, beware of third-party sites selling discounted gift cards. While some gift card resale sites are legitimate and offer buyer protections, not all do and open marketplaces that don’t specialize in this type of sale can be particularly susceptible to fraudsters. That’s why I recommend always going to the official financial service or retailer’s website to purchase gift cards.
While it sure feels like there are more scams out there than mothers, it only takes one who “has your number” (or email) to turn Mother’s Day into a real mutha, so be careful.
This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.