Submitted by AARP of Washington

A new AARP Fraud Watch Network report is alerting consumers of scams they could encounter over the holidays. Of those surveyed, 75-percent reported they have been targeted or experienced at least one form of fraud that can be tied to the holidays. 

“The holiday season is a time for togetherness, celebration, and giving,” said AARP Washington State Director Doug Shadel. “Unfortunately, the gift-giving process, from purchasing the perfect gift to making sure it gets to the recipient, also brings a plethora of opportunities for scammers to enrich themselves.”

Scammers deploy a number of tactics to steal during the holidays, ranging from online shopping scams, to scams involving the draining of gift cards, to package and shipping scams. The AARP study found that many consumers may be opening themselves up to risk as they shop this holiday season. 

  • Credit Vs. Debit: According to AARP’s survey, nearly 70% of U.S adults will use their debit cards this holiday season, but debit cards do not offer the same protections as a credit card. The report recommends using a credit card for online purchases for better protections in the event of a fraud. 
  • Skip the Rack: Two-thirds of U.S. adults (66%) plan to purchase gift cards as a holiday gift. Purchasing off the rack at grocery stores and pharmacies is most common (60%), but gift cards on store racks are also a known target for scammers.  TIP: Visit the retailer’s website directly and purchase the card online. And if you do buy from a store, inspect cards carefully for tampering, and keep all activation and purchase receipts.
  • Watch the Apps: Nearly half of U.S. adults (45%) intend to use peer-to-peer (P2P) apps like Venmo, Zelle or Cash App to send money, and 69% of P2P users have sent money to someone they didn’t know well (not recommended).
  • Package Delivery Scams: Over half of U.S. adults (53%) said they are planning to ship gifts to friends or family over the holidays. Packages on front porches are a common target for thieves, with one in four adults (25%) reporting they lost a package in this way. Additionally, scammers send fake shipping notifications about an issue to get consumers to disclose payment or sensitive personal information. More than a third of adults (34%) reported receiving fake carrier notifications. TIP:Ask shippers if packages can be held at their location for pickup or have them delivered in a discrete place out of easy view. If you haven’t placed an order, or a shipping notification requests urgent demands for payment or personal info, ignore it.
  • Be careful online: Three quarters of adults surveyed (75%) said they plan on shopping online for the holidays, but consumers need to know the red flags before logging in. Over a third of U.S. adults (35%) reported they experienced fraud when buying a product through an online advertisement. Some online advertisements can download malicious software onto devices or lead the shopper to a cloned site of a legitimate store.

Give, But Give Wisely

The year-end is also when many charities raise a significant portion of their funds, so of course scammers want in on the action.  Americans contributed more than $471 billion to charity last year. That generosity supports many amazing organizations that put those billions to work for worthy causes.

“But when scammers are in the mix, our support for these worthy causes ends up lining the pockets of criminals,” said Shadel. AARP’s survey shows that 38% of adults reported receiving a request for a monetary donation to a charity that felt fake or fraudulent.

A good way to avoid giving to a sham charity – or to avoid giving through a fundraiser that keeps much of what they raise – is to research the charity before giving. You can do this online in several ways, such as give.orgcharitywatch.org or charitynavigator.org. An even better way is to make your charitable giving decisions at the end of this year on what you’d like to support in 2022. Write it down and stick to it. It also makes it easier to decline donating by saying you’ve already made your giving decisions.

“Ultimately, the point here isn’t to take the joy out of this time of year or take the fun out of gift-giving, but to help consumers be aware so they can protect themselves and their loved ones,” said Shadel. “This holiday season, serve your holiday cheer with a side of skepticism to help stay safe from increasingly sophisticated scammers.” 

More information on these and other holiday scams is included on AARP’s website at www.aarp.org/holidayscams.

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