Thieves and con artists thrive during the holidays. All that good cheer, all those weary and distracted shoppers, all that money being spent – it’s a fraudster’s paradise. Here are a few tips to keep the bad guys at bay, whether you’re shopping online or at your local mall.
• Stick with reputable merchants. During the holidays, your e-mail in-box may be filled with unsolicited messages urging you to “click here.” Don’t. Scammers set up websites that mimic legitimate stores. Their sole purpose is to extract personal information from unwary consumers. If you don’t know the merchant, either type in the web address yourself or, better yet, shop elsewhere.
• Take care with charities. Of course, many legitimate church groups and nonprofit organizations engage in fund-raising activities during the holidays. If you’re confident that the group is above-board, go ahead and donate. But if you catch a whiff that something’s not quite right – the solicitor is too pushy or the guy at your front door evades reasonable questions about the organization – hold on to your money.
• Be attentive at the mall. Thieves love to lurk in and around shopping malls. So be aware. Take only the cash and credit cards you need to make purchases. Don’t be fooled by someone selling $10 Rolex watches or $50 Armani suits. Some crooks even hang out in store parking lots stalking potential targets. In one scam, a thief will approach a woman in a parked car and inform her that the vehicle is damaged. When she gets out to check, the thief’s partner absconds with the lady’s purse. If an activity or person seems suspicious, call 911 or mall security.
• Be on guard with gift cards. These little pieces of plastic can be great stocking stuffers, but they’re also prime targets for crooks. Scammers have been known to copy numbers from gift cards hanging in store displays. They then call a toll-free number to learn when the card is activated and use the card number to make purchases. One way to avoid this is to buy from retailers who keep gift cards behind the checkout register.