Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Holiday Season Scams: From Fake Charities to Wi-Fi Hackers

Dec 12, 2010 Harriet Cooper

Christmas Scams Lead to Identity Theft - Alan Cleaver

Christmas Scams Lead to Identity Theft - Alan Cleaver

As Charlotte Bumstead reminds us in her article, "McAfee Reveals The 12 Scams of Christmas." (Zoomer Magazine. Dec 9, 2010), the old saying "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is" is even truer when it comes to anything connected to electronic gadgets and online use. Here are some of this year's Christmas and holiday online scams developed to separate you from your money and steal your identity.

Great Christmas Deals Are Often Rip Offs for Identity Theft

Get a free iPad or other gadget is one of this year's favorite Christmas scams. This offer comes in several flavors. You might see it as part of a deal in which you get a free electronic device if you spend over a certain amount of money or as a thank-you for taking an online quiz or survey. Don't believe it. As part of the scam, you're asked to give your cell phone number. You may find yourself automatically signed up for a cell phone scam that could cost you $10 a week and be hard to get out of.

"Get a free gift card" is a variation on the free gift scam. Facebook scammers set up pages that look like well-known retailers and offer free gift cards to people who sign up to the fan page. Part of the deal is asking for personal information. Instead of a gift card, subscribers find themselves victims of identity theft.

Websites offering unbelievable deals may simply be a way for scammers to draw customers into the websites and then steal their credit card information when they purchase non-existent goods. Only deal with reputable online retailers. If you're not sure, stay away.

False Bank Account Problems and Low-Interest Rate and Loan Scams

Money is often an issue with people at this time of year as they buy presents, go out for dinners or take trips. So, it's not surprising that scammers have found ways to try to relieve you of your money by imitating banks, online retailers and credit card companies.

As more and more people use their online devices to pay for things, scammers are turning that around to try and bilk them out of hundreds of dollars. The most common scam is to send a text message to people saying there is a problem with their bank account or online retail account. Customers are then asked to confirm confidential, personal information, such as account numbers and PINs, at which point their identity is stolen.

Most banks, credit card companies and online retailers tell customers that they never contact them online to request such information. If there is a problem with an account, these companies generally call or send a letter, asking the customer to contact them at a verifiable telephone number to continue the discussion. If you're suspicious, always verify the request by calling the number on the company's website or billing statement.

This is also the time of year when fake banks and credit card companies send out thousands of emails offering prequalified, low rate credit cards and loans. Along with the offer is a request for personal banking information to set up the loan or credit card. Once the scammers have the banking information, it's like giving them a key to your account. Instead of a loan or credit card, you may find your bank account has been emptied or that low rate loan or credit card is actually charging you way above normal banking rates.

Fake Charities and Travel Scams: Stealing Your Money and Identity

Two of the most common scams during the holiday season involve family and charities.

One common travel scam is for someone to send a fake distress message to friends or family, asking for emergency money. Supposedly, the traveler has lost his money, his ticket, or been in an accident and needs money quickly. Any money that friends or family wire or transfer ends up in the pocket of the scammer.

Many people give to charities during this time of year, both for themselves and increasingly instead of gifts. That's one reason why requests for charities go up during the holiday season. Unfortunately, so do scams. Many fake charities spring up at Christmas, often using names that sound similar to real charities, particularly charities for children, veterans or the latest war or disaster relief fund. Some use regular mail; others use phone solicitation.

Always doublecheck the exact name of the charity and don't give money over the phone if you've never dealt with that charity before. The same goes for canvassers who knock on your door. Ask for literature and then think about it. If you do want to donate online, most charities now have secure websites that allow you to do so.

Tis the Season for Wi-Fi Hackers and Identity Theft

It's not only technophiles who love free public Wi-Fi. So do hackers. When you're using public Wi-Fi, be particularly careful. It's easy for hackers to park themselves in these spaces and send other users emails and links, offering great deals that are a prelude to identity theft.

Don't fire up your computer or handheld device just anywhere Wi-Fi is available, Instead, make sure to use trusted Wi-Fi networks and well-established websites. As an added precaution, don’t check your bank accounts or shop online unless you're totally sure about the level of security. If you're not sure, wait til you're home or back at work.

Don't let hackers ruin your holiday season. Beware of too-good-to-be-true deals, don't give out personal financial information over Wi-Fi networks or in emails or texts, and use your head rather than your heart when responding to any request for money. For more information on protecting yourself against identity theft, check out TD Bank Financial Group's "Privacy and Security: Smart Online Usage."

Copyright Harriet Cooper. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

  • Christmas Scams Lead to Identity Theft - Alan Cleaver

    Christmas Scams Lead to Identity Theft - Alan Cleaver

  • Win Free iPad or iPhone Scam - Yutaka Tsutano

    Win Free iPad or iPhone Scam - Yutaka Tsutano

  • Low Interest Credit Card or Bank Loan - The Truth About

    Low Interest Credit Card or Bank Loan - The Truth About

  • Online Christmas Sale Scams and Identity Theft - Tim Parkinson

    Online Christmas Sale Scams and Identity Theft - Tim Parkinson

  • Beware of Fake Charity and Traveler Scams - Ryan McFarland

    Beware of Fake Charity and Traveler Scams - Ryan McFarland

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