By Ethan Lichtenberg

Ahh, it’s that time of year again. Time for everybody to flood to the outlet malls and storefronts to buy things they really don’t need. This month-long span from Thanksgiving to Christmas, you can count on millions of people thinking they’re getting the best price for items that were just price gouged and then discounted. With millions of people running their credit and debit cards, it’s also the most popular time of the year for holiday scams. 

Holiday scams can range from skimming credit cards at stores, to fraud emails that put a virus into your laptop or phone and make all of your sensitive information available on the dark web. 

To help you avoid the possible scams of the upcoming holiday season, we’ve compiled a few tips and tricks to keep you prepared. 

Charity Scams

This is a classic holiday scam that comes back around every year without fail. It won’t result in you losing hundreds of dollars or having your identity stolen, but it will take some money out of your pocket that you thought was for a good cause. 

Around Christmas every year, the grocery stores become even more packed than they usually are, so charities set up bell-ringers to collect donations. While not every bell-ringer is a scam, be careful of the ones you give your money to. If there’s a jolly old man that looks like Santa Claus collecting out of a plastic bucket, that is probably not a reputable charity. Instead, that would probably be a charity to support old St. Nick’s Peppermint Schnapps addiction. The Salvation Army bell-ringers you can usually count on, but look for the signs of someone that may not be with a charity at all. Request the name of the charity or foundation, research it online and make sure it actually exists.

Gift Cards

Gift cards are one of the most popular options for presents during the holiday season. (Mostly from your Aunt Karen who doesn’t know anything about you). This being said, scammers have come up with a new trick to steal your information. It’s quite an elaborate scam. Thieves will walk into retail stores and go to the gift card shelf to remove the decals where the PIN is. After gathering the information from the gift card, they then can cover the PIN back up with a similar looking sticker and put it back on the shelf. Next, they return to their computers and wait for someone to activate the card online or at the online checkout of that retailer. The scammers can then steal the information from that card and use it to buy items and resell them at a higher price; while you can kiss your gift card goodbye. Scammers are getting smarter, so you need to as well. When checking out gift cards, make sure the metal scratch-off decal looks normal and is fully covering the information under it. 

Email/ Viruses

Technology is rapidly changing. Our phones hold everything you need to know about us. Your name, your birthday, your pictures, your emails, your social media, and even your credit cards. While technology has made our world a more connected place, this can sometimes bite us in the “you know what.” Scammers are now devising entire websites and email marketing campaigns that have embedded viruses to steal your sensitive information. Most of these emails are easily catchable, but some are not. Look for companies that you’ve never heard of before. Most of the time, people know what reputable companies are because you’ve seen millions of commercials. Try sticking with companies you know and trust, and avoid opening the other emails altogether. Another trick, avoid deals that seem way too good to be true. Up to 90% off is not a thing for a typical company; this ploy could be a way for scammers to enter your hidden information. We all get hundreds of marketing emails a day, so be wary of the ones you open, and the ones you immediately delete. 

My Final Advice

This year when you’re running around the stores with the other million people walking stride for stride next to you, remember what the great Dr. Seuss once said; “Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.” This holiday season, buy your friends and family experiences or simply arrive with good spirits and your company. 

Oftentimes we forget the true meaning of the Holidays and the importance of the people around us. The ones who genuinely love us, do not need boxes and bags, or ribbons and bows. Instead, they want us to be around them. My greatest advice to avoid being scammed this holiday season is to skip the lines and head home to your family. Drink a warm cup of joe on the porch as the morning sun peaks it’s head out and evaporates the chill in the air. These are the moments you will always remember.

With that said, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year 2020. Be safe everybody.