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‘Tis the Season for Scams

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If it seems too good to be true …

By Will Johnson

Messenger Reporter

EAST TEXAS – As the Holiday Season approaches, festive lights will adorn houses, Christmas trees will be decorated, turkeys and hams will be baked, roasted or fried and people will greet one another with “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays,” or even “Happy New Year.”

While the stress level goes up for some during the last of November and the month of December, most people are genuinely nicer to one another at this time of year. There is, however, a certain group of people who tend to prey upon others during the Holiday Season.

They are crooks, thieves and scammers and if you’re not careful, you may fall victim to the newest scheme they have come up with.

A recently released study from SocialCatfish.com is projecting online shopping scams will surge this holiday season “… as consumers set to spend a record $207 billion online. Fake websites, Instagram giveaways, and Secret Santa contents are the common scams consumer need to avoid right now.”

The study was put together using the Federal Trade Commission and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) through 2020.

The study indicated Texas was the third most at-risk state, “… having lost $313 million to fraudsters last year, when a record $4.2 billion was stolen nationally.”

Online shopping has also been the No. 1 most common scam reported to the FTC in Texas relating to the pandemic, which has led to the scam surge with more people operating online.

Here are Five Online Shopping Scams to Avoid This Holiday Season: 

  1. MISSING PACKAGE SCAM: Capitalizing on inevitable supply chain delays, scammers pretend to be FedEx and send an email with a link to track your package. When clicked on, these malicious links steal your personal and financial information. They also may text, leave voicemails, or place a “missed delivery” tag on your front door.

How to Avoid: Never click a link or call back a number from an unexpected delivery notice. Always contact the company directly using a verified number or website.

  • SOCIAL MEDIA SECRET SANTA: A pyramid scheme called “Secret Sister” is circulating on Facebook. Scammers recruit “sisters” with the promise that if they buy a $10 gift for another member, they will receive 36 gifts in return. A version of this scam includes exchanging bottles of wine.

How to Avoid: Do not respond to communication from “Secret Sister” or do an exchange “for the good of the sisterhood.”

  • FAKE RETAILERS AND WEBSITES: Look out for fake websites that advertise enormous sales on popular gift ideas that are out of stock everywhere else due to supply chain issues. Fake sites have a domain name with an extraneous letter or number, grammatical errors, and limited contact information.

How to Avoid: Research the company and read customer reviews before purchasing. Google their name with the word “scam” to see if anything comes up.

  • HOLIDAY CHARITY GIFT SCAM: In addition to traditional gifting, people may donate to charity on someone’s behalf. This increased during COVID-19 and ramps up every year during the season of giving. Scammers pose as a fake charity to solicit fraudulent donations. Often, they pick a name that sounds close to a well-known charity.

How to Avoid: Search the charity on a public database such as BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Navigator.

  • FAKE INSTAGRAM GIVEAWAYS: Around the holidays, brands and influencers offer free product giveaways. Scammers are using a technique called “like-farming,” where they ask you to like or comment on their post for a chance to win a holiday prize. They include malicious links and steal your personal information.

How to Avoid: Look for the blue checkmark which social media platforms use to verify a real page from copycats. Watch for typos and accounts with limited content.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.   

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