MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The holiday season is here, and that presents plenty of opportunities for scammers to spoil Alabamians’ celebrations. A few scams are specific to the holidays, but most are variations on everyday frauds, ramped up to match seasonal spikes in spending and web traffic.
A recently released AARP survey of adults 18+ found that more than 70% of U.S. adults plan to buy gift cards as presents. More, nearly one in five report that they have either given or received a gift card that had no funds on it (likely compromised by a scammer). That’s because gift card fraud shifts into high gear during the holidays. Thieves can hit store gift card racks, scan the numbers off the cards, and then monitor them. As soon as the card is bought and activated, the scammers drain the funds.
Fraud reports in the first three quarters of 2019 showed $74 million has been lost in scams involving gift cards and reloadable cards, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – a huge increase from the $78 million lost in all four quarters of 2018.
Here’s another statistic that scammers are well aware of: 60% of consumers buy holiday gifts online, according to a Deloitte survey. Scammers set up fake websites and run social media campaigns to drive shoppers to them. Victims then spend money on products they will never receive as many of these spoofed sites are vehicles for harvesting credit card numbers and other personal data that fraudsters can use to commit identity theft.
“The holiday season brings good cheer and time with family and friends,” shares Evey Owen, interim associate state director of communications for AARP Alabama. “Unfortunately, while we are in a state of joy and giving, scammers use this as an opportunity to deceive and steal people’s hard-earned money.”
AARP Alabama offers these tips to protect yourself and your family from scammers’ tactics this holiday season:
- Avoid following links directly from emails or social media to online stores; instead, type the name of the retailer into your web browser. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it may indeed be a scam.
- To avoid disappointing your gift card recipient, buy cards from protected racks behind the store counter or purchase them direct from the retailer online. And always check them for evidence of tampering.
- Make sure the charity seeking your donation is legitimate, and that your money will actually be used for good. Check out the charity on org or give.org before giving.
AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free Watchdog Alerts at aarp.org/FraudWatchNetwork or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.