AARP Consumer Watch: Beware Of Holiday Scams

Dec 18, 2013, 12:00 ET from AARP Illinois

AARP Reveals Common Holiday Hoaxes – Provides Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

CHICAGO, Dec. 18, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- With the holiday season upon us, AARP is revealing some common holiday scams and encouraging consumers to remain vigilant as they head out to finish up their holiday shopping.

"The holidays are a bonanza for scam artists, who often target older adults," said Bob Gallo, AARP Illinois State Director. "But there are a few simple steps consumers can take to avoid becoming a victim. The first step is knowing that the scam exists."

Sid Kirchheimer, AARP's scam expert, has compiled the following common holiday scams:

  • Rogue Websites: These appear in your search engine results when you type in the names of top-selling gift items.  Promising discounts, these sites simply steal credit card information, passwords and other sensitive data.  When shopping online, carefully read the website address before clicking and, once on the site, look for phone numbers and street addresses as signs of legitimate vendors. 
  • Courier Cons: Beware of emails claiming that FedEx, UPS, DHL, etc. is trying to deliver a package.  It's unlikely that these companies have your email address since most shipping forms don't ask for it, so you can assume it's a scam.  Also, be suspicious of postcards mailed to you about "undeliverable" packages.  These could be a trick to get you to make an expensive overseas phone call and/or reveal personal information.  When in doubt, look up the courier service's call back number.  Don't use the number on the postcard. 
  • Gift Card Gotchas: Scammers stalk gift card display racks and use a portable scanner to get the code underneath the scratch-off strip on the back.  Then they put the cards back on the rack and wait for them to be purchased.  By dialing the cards' toll-free number, they can find out how much value is on the card and then use them to make online purchases.  A better option is to purchase gift cards from a store's customer service counter, not the stand alone gift card displays.
  • Charity Cons: Unless you provided your email address to an organization, assume that all email solicitations bearing a charity's name are scams.  Beware of "sound-a-like" organizations; for example, the National Heart Associations as opposed to the legitimate American Heart Association.  When in doubt, visit the Wise Giving Alliance, operated by the Better Business Bureau, to check on a charity's legitimacy.