The 12 Scams of Christmas for 2017

steal Christmas

Scammers make a killing during the holiday season. While you spend your time thinking of ways to bring holiday joy to others, they spend their time thinking up ways to steal from you. The saddest part about this is that the ghosts of Christmases past keep visiting Christmas present.

With that, I give you this year’s 12 scams of Christmas.

  1. The Gift Card Scam

While definitely a ghost of Christmas past, this still works so scammers still do it. It’s pretty simple. The thief records the numbers displayed on a gift card, and then calls the company that issued it to find out if it has been activated, which occurs when the card is purchased. The problem here is one of timing. If you buy a gift card early in the shopping season, it’s more exposed to fraud. That said, recipients of gift cards often take a while to use them.

Tip: If you are going to purchase a gift card, do it as close to Christmas Day as possible, and encourage the recipient to use it as soon as possible.

  1. Sneak Attacks on Your Credit

With the non-stop news of data breaches involving credit card numbers, many of us are walking around with compromised payment cards that can be used by a scammer, and there is no more perfect time of the year for them to try than Christmas. The usual warning signs of an account takeover, or a fraudulent charge, may be harder for financial institutions to spot, since Christmas gifts often don’t conform to a cardholder’s buying patterns.

Tip: Sign up for transaction alerts from your bank or credit card issuer that notify you any time there is activity on your accounts.

  1. Fake Charities

While it’s not exactly the way it plays out in our nation’s malls and shopping districts, Christmas is traditionally a time for contemplation and charitable giving—something captured very well in Charles Dickens’s classic, “A Christmas Carol.” So if you want to give during the holiday season, it’s crucial to make sure the appeal is real.

Tip: Before responding to an online appeal, visit the website by typing in the organization’s URL manually, or by using search to find the link. If you are still unsure, call. If you are still uncomfortable, use Charity Navigator or contact the Office of the Attorney General in your state to confirm the organization’s authenticity.

  1. Temporary Holiday Jobs

Holiday jobs are a good way to make some extra money, and there are a lot of them, but bear in mind there are myriad scammers out there who may offer fake jobs to harvest your very real personally identifiable information—the most valuable of which being your Social Security number.

Tip: Don’t give your Social Security number to anyone unless you absolutely have to, and don’t provide it before you confirm you’re dealing with a representative of a real organization that has offered a job to you. Never send your information digitally unless you know the recipient uses proper security protocols. (You may not be using secure tech either, so try to be conservative about what you send digitally.)

  1. Phishing, Vishing and Smishing

You might receive a phone call, a text or an email. It doesn’t matter what the delivery system is, it’s a fraud but it won’t necessarily look like one. It could look like a sales promotion from a brand you like, or an offer on a deal that seems too good to be true, or even just “pretty good.” Scam artists can be very nuanced. Be on the alert before you act on any offer.

Tips: Check to see the URL matches exactly, and that you never provide any personal information on any web page unless the URL is secure and starts with “https.” Email links should always be considered suspect.

  1. True Love

The holidays can be lonely, and catphishers know that. Love scams are the worst, as they prey on the emotions in the most exploitative ways disarming the heartstrings with an eye to loosening purse strings. The money lost can be considerable, and the upset unfathomable.

Tip: As corny as it seems, be careful with your heart and don’t give it away to just anyone. If you feel like you’re falling for someone and they somehow can never make an in-person appearance, don’t send them money to do so. You can do better.

  1. Hotel Scams

You might fall victim to the restaurant flyer scam, the menu for a non-existent eatery shoved under the door resulting in an order that gets you robbed, or it could be the front desk scam where you get a call after check-in asking for another credit card number because “the one you provided was rejected.”

Tip: Assume the worst when in unfamiliar territory, and be on guard when traveling. Always distrust. Always verify.

  1. Fake online shops

This is a tough one, but here’s the deal… Bargain? Amazing prices on things that should cost a lot more than they are asking on a fake online shop is alluring, which is why people fall for them all the time. Pop up shops are cool, but they may not always be legit.

Tip: Look at the About Us page and call the designated contact number. If there is no number, think twice before making a purchase. Also pay attention to detail. Are there spelling errors in the copy? Bad-looking stock photos? Look for trouble.

  1. E-Cards

We all appreciate the sentiment behind an e-card, but that should not outweigh the risk of malware that can take a computer hostage or record every keystroke so that your most sensitive credentials for financial accounts can be stolen. E-cards are a popular form of fraud among scam artists, and you should be very cautious when you receive one.

Tip: Email, call or text the sender and ask if they sent an e-card. In this environment of constant attack, they will understand (and if they don’t, your Christmas present to them can be forwarding this column).

  1. E-voucher scams

This scam is built for people old enough to remember a physical, printed voucher, which, presented in person at a brick and mortar store, would get you a discount. They were basically a coupon. E-vouchers are fine if they come in the form of a number sequence, discount code or keyword, but anything else should be considered suspect.

Tip: Be on the lookout for grammar or spelling errors. Always type in the URL of the site for which you have an e-voucher, and enter the code or number there. If it comes by way of text or email and it involves a link, don’t click through. 

  1. Fake Shipping Notifications

What could be worse than a message from your favorite e-tailer letting you know that the must-have item you ordered is out of stock or was sent to the wrong address. Another oldie but goodie among thieves is a notice informing you that the “Item has been delivered” when it hasn’t been.

Tip: Never click any link associated with this type of communication. Always log onto the e-tailer site for more information, or pick up your phone and call.

  1. Wish list scams

Online wish lists are a bad practice that should be discouraged. In theory, the online wish list creates a place where friends and relatives can find out what you want for Christmas, which many find preferable to guesswork. Beyond being horribly transactional, the practice opens the list-maker to phishing attacks, since scam artists will automatically know what interests you.

Tip: If you must post a wish list online, custom set the privacy on the post so that only particular people can see it, and don’t include any personally identifiable information.

At Christmas it’s always better to give the gift, than be the gift that keeps on giving to identity thieves.

If your personal information does fall into the hands of a scammer, be sure to monitor your credit for signs of identity theft. You can do so by viewing your free credit report snapshot, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

 

Image: iStock

The post The 12 Scams of Christmas for 2017 appeared first on Credit.com.

How Your Netflix Obsession Could Get You Scammed

People in a rush to get back to binge-watching their favorite shows are the prime focus for this scam targeting Netflix users.

A new scam targeting Netflix users is being reported by a cyber-security company that says the scammers are trying to get credit card and other personal information.

FireEye Labs first reported the phishing scam earlier this week, saying customers should be wary of any emails asking them to update their Netflix member information. Netflix had not posted any guidance for customers on its blogs nor released an official statement at the time of this writing, but a representative sent us this: “Members who want to learn more about how to keep their personal information safe against phishing scams and other malicious activity can go to netflix.com/security or contact Customer Service directly.”

According to the FireEye Labs report, a link in the email being sent to Netflix members looks like an official Netflix web page but is not legitimate. The page asks users for:

  • The name on their credit card
  • Their credit card number
  • Card expiration date
  • 3-digit security code; and
  • Social Security number

According to FireEye, the email looks very realistic, and the phony site mimics the Netflix homepage, as you can see in the screengrab FireEye published in its report:

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 11.58.02 AM

According to FireEye, the phishing sites it referenced in its report are no longer active, but new scams like this pop up often. It’s important for consumers to know these things exist and be very careful about sharing sensitive personal or financial information.

How to Protect Yourself From Phishing & Other Scams

There are some standard best practices when it comes to protecting yourself from scams on the internet. These tips for better internet security are a good place to start. In a nutshell, it’s always a good idea to be suspicious, especially if a company is reaching out to you through email or text message. And until you’ve confirmed that the email, text or even phone call are legitimate, it’s wise to never give out personal data like your credit card or debit card numbers, date of birth, address or, worst of all, your Social Security number.

If you think you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you can monitor your credit scores for free by using Credit.com’s free credit report snapshot, or by paying for a complete credit report monitoring service, which includes your full credit report and daily alerts to monitor your credit.

Image: mphillips007 

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Scam Alert: Those Campaign Calls May Be a Trick

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As Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump ramp up their campaigning efforts in the last weeks of this year’s presidential election, robocalls have increased significantly. And not just the legitimate ones. Scammers also have upped their efforts in hopes of gaming the politically fervent and gullible.

A recent review of political robocalls tied to the 2016 presidential election found that legitimate calls from the Trump and Clinton campaigns have increased by 64% since the beginning of the year, jumping 20% from July to September. At the same time, political scam calls have increased nearly 10 times that amount, up 614% since the beginning of the year.

These findings by Hiya, a company providing caller ID products and services, also showed that total Trump campaign calls to potential voters outpaced Clinton by 388%. The majority of legitimate calls from both campaigns originated from phone numbers in the Washington, D.C., and New York metro areas. Scam calls for Trump and Clinton, however, originated primarily from the following area codes.

  • 213 (Los Angeles)
  • 803 (Columbia, South Carolina)
  • 312 (Chicago)
  • 281 (Houston)
  • 212 (New York)

However, the review found that legitimate calls for the candidates originated in the following areas.

Top 5 Clinton Area Codes (where calls originate)

  • 202 (Washington, D.C.)
  • 646 (New York)
  • 215 (Philadelphia)
  • 315 (Syracuse, New York)
  • 561 (Palm Beach County, Florida)

Top 5 Trump Area Codes (where calls originate)

  • 202 (Washington, D.C.)
  • 646 (New York)
  • 315 (Syracuse, New York)
  • 585 (Rochester, New York)
  • 310 (Los Angeles)

According to Hiya’s research, which was conducted online by Harris Poll from Sept. 28-30 among 2,007 adults, most of the scam calls fall into the following three categories.

1. Re-register or Voter Verification
In an attempt to gain access to personal information such as emails, addresses and Social Security numbers, scammers pretend to re-register voters or verify their voter registration information.

2. Campaign Donations
While political campaigns can and will legally seek donations by phone, you may not want to donate directly over the phone without doing your due diligence to confirm the organization.

3. Election Surveys
Offering incentives such as free cruises, trips or gift cards, scammers ask voters to answer survey questions on behalf of a political party before asking for credit card information to cover the cost of shipping, taxes or handling of the “prize.”

What to Do If You’ve Been Scammed

If you think you may have been a victim of a scam, you can minimize the damage by monitoring your credit for signs of fraud.

Remember, an identity thief may take over your bank account and drain your balance, charge a credit card up to the limit, take over your utility or mobile phone account, and apply for credit and loan accounts in your name, sticking you with the bills and a damaged credit history to clean up. An identity thief could also apply for health insurance, jobs and tax refunds and even commit other crimes while impersonating you.

That’s why watching your accounts for unauthorized transactions, unfamiliar entries on your credit report and sudden changes in credit scores are so important. These are all signs of potential fraud and you’d be wise to address them immediately.

You can start monitoring your credit scores for free today through Credit.com’s free credit report summary, updated every 14 days.

Image: Martin Dimitrov

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7 Texts You Should Ignore

Whether you’re trying to win tickets to a sold-out concert, remind your partner to buy milk, vote for your favorite reality TV personality or ask your headphones-encased kid a question, there’s a text for that. While texting is a great convenience and time saver (not to mention an international obsession), if you respond to a wrong text — think: Wyle E. Coyote and the Roadrunner — look out below!

Phishing via text works the same way as email, the only difference is format, tone and, of course, length. The goal remains to commandeer as much information about you as possible (to use for fraud) and/or take control of your device. The pilfered information can be seriously harmful to your sanity, not to mention your finances, since scam artists are always looking to make a quick buck at your expense.

There are many texts you should handle with kid gloves, and still others that you should ignore.

I’m not talking about the obvious “don’ts” here, like looking at texts that were not sent to you. (Oh, and in case you missed that memo, sneaking a peak at your partner’s texts is and always will be a one-way ticket to relational oblivion.) What you need to worry about are texts that could have plausibly been sent to you.

This latter category of text is not always obviously fraudulent. The same thing that makes texting second nature to you is what makes it a potential hazard to your personal information safety.

Regardless of their apparent merit, instead of replying to unsolicited texts directly, you should call the purported sender directly to be sure they aren’t trying to contact you.

With that in mind, here are seven texts you’ll want to be wary of.

1. Texts From Your Bank With Links

Automatic transaction alerts are an excellent security measure. You can set an alert on your checking and savings accounts to cover all kinds of parameters, such as the minimum balance you have to maintain without incurring a fee, a trigger amount on a withdrawal and more. These can be delivered via text, and here’s the thing: the SMS version from your bank will never contain a link. If you get one that does, ignore it. You can also call your bank directly.

2. Texts From the IRS

This is the easiest phishing scam to detect. The IRS never sends texts — ever. It’s also worth noting that the IRS won’t email you about official business either. The only way to do business with the IRS is via the United States Postal Service or by telephone — and if you are contacted by phone, it’s a good rule of thumb to tell the person who called you that you are concerned about security, and you need a reference number or department because you are going to call back on the IRS main phone line about whatever the matter may be. Also keep in mind that just because your caller ID tells you the incoming call is from the IRS does not mean it is the IRS since many phishers are consummate “spoofers.”

3. Texts From Your Credit Card Company With a Call to Action

This is similar to a text from your bank, but with more options for failure. You may have transaction alerts set that get delivered via text. You may have also consented to promotional notices. The bottom line with texts from your credit card company: whatever they are allegedly saying to you via text, they will say to you on the phone. Ignore any texts with a call to action, even if you want to take the action, and call your credit card company directly on the number designated on the back of your credit card. Especially ignore the text if it says that clicking on the link (or calling the number) is the only way to get a particular promotion.

4. Unsolicited Texts From Your Doctor, Lawyer, or Accountant

Businesses that collect a lot of personal information from clients, like medical practices, law firms or accounting firms can be prime targets for hackers. If you get a text from any of these folks, no matter how convincing, and no matter how much about you they seem to know (remember, these same professionals may not have the best defenses against hackers), ignore the text and call them.

5. Random Texts From Your Mortgage Company

I am guessing you’re getting the gist of this game, but any seemingly official notification about one’s mortgage somehow has the ability to completely unhinge people, especially if there is a problem. As data breaches have become the third certainty in life, it is quite likely your mortgage information is out there. If a scammer gets ahold of it, they might try to scare you into taking an action via text, like sending payments to a new address. Ignore them and call your mortgage holder.

6. Scary Texts From Your Auto Lender

Nothing is quite as classic in the storybook of personal finance as the repo man coming to take your car. Because it’s a common nightmare scenario, we are liable to fall for it. Ignore any texts you get from your auto lender. Instead of replying, always call to find out what you already know: someone just tried to scam you.

7. Promotional Texts From Your Favorite Game

Don’t be embarrassed. We all have a game we like to play, and so do our kids. The problem here is that for real devotees, there is very little one won’t do to get an edge. Whether it’s buying points or weapons or secrets, or getting the latest upgrade the second it’s released, true gamers are a juicy target for scammers who send texts hawking special promotions, and they are less likely to be careful about whom they give their contact information to, since getting more game time is more important than anything. Same rule applies here: ignore any text that you get, and make sure your kids do as well. Go online and find the promotion from a reputable site.

If you think you’ve responded to a phishing text, you should monitor your credit for signs of identity theft. (You can do so by pulling your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and viewing your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.)

When it comes to staying safe, let restraint be your co-pilot. A little pause goes a long way and you don’t want to end up being the get for scammers.

More Money-Saving Reads:

Image: Todor Tsvetkov

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This Mystery Shopper Scam Just Won’t Die

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A scam involving counterfeit checks is making its way around the internet, and if you’re not careful, you could be its next victim.

That’s according to Fox 6 Now, which reported this week that a man named Jerry Peterson received a priority mail package after applying for a mystery shopper job online. Inside was a check for $3,830, along with detailed instructions on what to do with it.

Peterson was told to spend $180 at Staples and/or Office Depot and pocket $400 for himself. He was instructed to wire the remaining $3,250 back to the original sender immediately.

After discussing the package with his wife, Peterson realized it was a counterfeit check scam and called police. In a counterfeit check scam, the target is meant to wire the requested funds, deposit the check and ultimately wind up on the hook for all those dollars when the banks discovers the check is fraudulent. Fortunately, he didn’t lose any money, but Peterson told Fox 6 Now he’s receiving at least two calls a week from different phone numbers asking him if he finished his “assignment” ever since.

Remember, it’s always a good idea to research any company you are thinking of working for or doing business with before turning over sensitive personal information (like your cell phone number). And it’s a good idea to be particularly wary of companies sending counterfeit checks and/or asking you to wire money — two popular methods among scammers.

If you believe you’ve been a victim of a counterfeit check scam, you should report the fraud to your local authorities. And, if you believe your personal information has been compromised, you should monitor your credit to make sure new accounts aren’t taken out in your name. You can do so by pulling your reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and viewing your credit scores each month for free on Credit.com. A sudden drop in credit score is a sign that identity theft may be occurring.

More on Identity Theft:

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Beware This Publix Coupon Scam

publix-coupon-scam

Publix shoppers are the latest targets of a coupon scam on Facebook promising $75 off an $80 purchase. Customers took to social media to report receiving a link by private message, complete with expiration date, UPC code, terms and conditions and even the Publix logo and slogan.

The link directs users to a fake Publix website, then prompts them to share the offer with 15 friends — but not before entering their personal information to receive the gift card.

The grocery chain quickly addressed the hoax on Facebook and Twitter:

“There is a fraudulent Publix coupon circulating on social media that states $75 off your purchase of $80 or more,'” the company said. “This is not supported by Publix, and this coupon is not valid at any of our locations. We recommend not participating in the promotion or providing your personal information.”

Publix is investigating the situation.

If you receive a scammy coupon, it’s best to ignore it. And if a company offers a discount, be sure to confirm its legitimacy before turning over any personal information. Giving up personal details like your full name, address and email can help scammers target you in the future and use your own information against you, potentially even stealing your identity (and wrecking your credit) in the process.

If you have reason to believe your data has been compromised, you may want to keep an eye on your credit report (you can get free annual credit reports — here’s how). You can also view two of your credit scores for free, updated monthly, on Credit.com.

[Offer: If you need help fixing errors on your credit report, Lexington Law could help you meet your goals. Learn more about them here or call them at (844) 346-3296 for a free consultation.]

More on Identity Theft:

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Learn How to Spot a Student Loan Scam

Spot a Student Loan Scam

We all know that scammers live amongst us. They’re trying to find out our personal information to gain access to our bank accounts, our health care, our savings … and increasingly scammers are targeting student loans, as well.

Often these scammers tend to rear their ugly heads when someone with a student loan is making changes to his or her current plan, like consolidation, lowering payments or trying to have debt removed. It’s a scary prospect (adding one more thing to be on the lookout for when it comes to identity theft), but with a little extra attention you should be able to spot the warning signs of a scammer. Here are a couple big things to be on the lookout for:

Scam Sign No. 1: They make too-good-to-be-true promises

What it looks like: As with other things in life, often a promise that sounds too good to be true is too good to be true. Remember that federal loans typically can’t be forgiven unless there are certain circumstances for which you qualify. In other words, if a company promises to make your debt go bye-bye without even knowing whether or not you qualify for debt forgiveness, more likely than not it is a scam.

Scam Sign No. 2: Their logo or name seems oddly familiar

What it looks like: If the company you’re dealing with has a name that’s almost but not quite the same as a well-known debt relief/student loan servicing company, that’s a big red flag. Always check with the Better Business Bureau for reviews of any company before working with them, since many scammers may try to use the likeliness of well-known companies to lure confused people in.

Scam Sign No. 3: They ask for fees up front

What it looks like: Advice or counseling as it relates to student loan debt relief shouldn’t come with a charge, and you should never pay anything up front before a company has even done anything to help you out. If the company you’re dealing with asks you to pay before anything has even been done, stop working with that company immediately.

Check out this piece for three more ways to spot a student loan scam so you don’t fall victim.

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