AARP Survey Finds Buyers Vulnerable To Holiday Scams

AARP Fraud Watch Network Launches Site in Response to Survey Results

Nov 18, 2015, 11:00 ET from AARP Illinois

CHICAGO, Nov. 18, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The holiday season is quickly approaching and many consumers are regularly engaging in behaviors that put them at risk of being victimized by con artists. A new AARP Fraud Watch Network survey found nearly 70 percent of consumers failed a quiz about staying safe from common holiday scams. The survey included seven questions about scams, including questions relating to charitable giving, gift cards, package deliveries, and use of public Wi-Fi.

"While most of us focus on family and friends during the holidays, fraudsters are zeroing in on our wallets and bank accounts," AARP Illinois Communications Manager Gerardo Cardenas said. "We're encouraging consumers to elevate their awareness of some emerging and frequent scams, and to also share the information with their families to help keep them safe this holiday season."

In response to survey results, AARP Fraud Watch Network has launched an educational campaign, including a new web page, discussing the top holiday scams to be on the lookout for during this holiday season:

Online Shopping—Fake Websites: Scammers launch copycat websites of well-known retailers or create a website offering popular, often "sold out" merchandise at seemingly crazy discounts. You're likely to come across them through emails or links on social media sites.

  • You can search for retailers to see if the website is legitimate. Just type in "vender name + scam" and see what comes up.
  • Type URLs directly into the browser; avoid clicking on links from an email or social media site.
  • When on the payment page, look for "https" at the beginning of the address. The "s" is stands for secure.
  • If you're shopping at a new site look for a return policy and contact information including a real address, toll-free customer service number, and other ways to reach the company if you have a problem.
  • Use a credit card (not a debit card) when online shopping for greater protection.

Gift Cards: Thieves will go to a store's gift card rack, write down or electronically scan the numbers off the cards, then check online or call the toll-free number to see if someone has bought the cards and activated them. Once a card is activated, they'll drain the funds and by the time you try to use the same card the money is long gone.

  • Be sure to purchase gift cards directly from the store they're from—and if possible—directly from the cashier.
  • Look at both sides of the card and look for signs of tampering such as an exposed PIN. If you find anything remotely questionable, ask for another card and examine that one, too.
  • Online gift card purchases should be done directly through the retailer's website. Never buy them on auction sites, even if it looks like a great deal.
  • Keep your receipt as proof of purchase until the card's value has been exhausted.
  • Don't provide personal information: any reputable business won't ask for a Social Security number, bank account information, or date of birth. It's a gift card, not a credit card.

Fake Charities: Scammers try to take advantage of end of the year charitable donations. One of the most popular holiday scams, fraudsters will misuse the name of a genuine organization or make up their own to take advantage of people's conscious and steal their money.

  • Only donate to charities you know. If a new charity piques your interest verify it on or through the Better Business Bureau.
  • If you get a request via phone call, call them back and request them to send you material about the organization.
  • Don't donate cash or use a wire transfer. Verify the organizations correct name and then donate by check.
  • Be wary of charities raising funds for local fire fighters or police.
  • Ask how much of your donation will go for the cause. A lot of charities spend the majority of their money for internal operational costs.

If you believe you are a victim of a holiday scam go to your local police station and file a report, that way you can prove to your bank and credit reporting companies you've been scammed. In addition to filing a report, save whatever you can in relation to the suspected fraud; including letters or emails of solicitation, cancelled checks, cash receipts, receipts for cashier's checks or money orders, bank statements, or investment statements that could help you get your money back.

For more information on scams to look out for during the holidays and additional tips on keeping yourself save, visit AARP's holiday fraud web page.

In 2014, AARP launched the Fraud Watch Network to arm Americans with the tools and resources they need to spot and avoid scams and identity theft. But scammers are still out there, making every attempt possible to cheat consumers out of their hard-earned money. The public can sign up for free to receive Fraud Watch Network alerts and more at