Top 4 holiday scams: ‘Tis the season for ripoffs

It’s bad enough that fraudsters exist at all; the fact they see the holiday season as a prime time to pounce is just plain cruel.

Here are few scams watch for in the coming days and weeks—and ways to protect yourself.

Phishing scams

These are a common way for hackers to retrieve your personal information year-round, but December brings on the opportunity for them to fool you with holiday e-cards. Beware of festive greetings from someone you’ve never heard of. Do not double-click on links or open attachments. Doing so could unleash malicious spyware or viruses. In some cases, nothing bad happens until you download software to “run your e-card”.

Same goes for email or text messages supposedly from major retailers or courier companies that contain tracking information for packages you never ordered. The Better Business Bureau has this advice: “When in doubt, delete.”

Used gift cards

Gift cards are the easiest, safest present you could ever wrap. According to the Deloitte 2013 Holiday Survey, 43 per cent of consumers will zip through their Christmas shopping list by going this route. However, these too are subject to scams.

Always purchase gift cards or prepaid credit cards from a reputable source, not via classifieds; with a used card, you’ll have no way of knowing how much money, if any, is left.

But be careful of cards that are in plain view on store shelves or counters and that don’t have their bar codes concealed. Scammers have been known to record those numbers then make repeated attempts to use the cards online, just waiting for them to be activated.

Never buy a gift card if it looks as if a sticker has been peeled off. Even better, find one in sealed packaging.

Fake charities

The holidays are one time of year when people are more willing to open their hearts and wallets for good causes, making this season a busy one for con artists who set up fake charities. Their strategy is to use names that are extremely similar to those of legitimate ones.

Scammers may approach you on the street, at your door, over the phone or via the Internet. According to the Competition Bureau of Canada, emails and collection boxes may even be marked with the logos of genuine charities. Avoid supposed charities that ask you to wire money, particularly overseas.

Fraudsters have been known to exploit natural disasters that make headlines (take the donut-selling scam following Alberta’s floods this past summer) and to prey on people’s emotions by pretending to be from charities that help sick children.

Be sure to ask for information in writing and approach organizations directly. Never give out personal banking or credit-card information. And investigate a charity’s legitimacy by searching Canada Revenue Agency’s Charities Listing. The CRA requires registration and provides legitimate charities with a number. Consider is a red flag of a charity isn’t registered.

The BBB Wise Giving Alliance urges people to consider that charity recommendations on Facebook, blogs or other social media haven’t necessarily been vetted. Ask organizations how donations are used and look into charities’ financial transparency.

Counterfeit currency used to buy used goods

Take note if you’re hoping to make some extra holiday spending money by unloading goods via online classifieds: Scammers may show up with fake money. This con is apparently popular when it comes to valuable electronic items such as iPhones, Xboxes, and PlayStatsions.

Brush up on your knowledge when it comes to security features on money. Prevention: a Sound Investment is a website that gives a comprehensive rundown of what security features should be present on your Canadian polymer bills. The website is a joint effort among several organizations including the government of Quebec, the Bank of Canada, and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. It notes that no denomination is exempt from potential counterfeiting.

Other common scams, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, include fake concert or sports tickets; the grandchild or relative in trouble overseas; notification that you’ve won a prize for a contest you didn’t enter; and a job offer to be a mystery shopper, complete with a cheque for you to deposit.