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The 12 Scams of Christmas: What You Need to Know

The holidays are in full swing, and scammers are doing everything they can to spoil all the fun. Each year, thousands of people fall victim to holiday scams targeting their hard-earned money and valuable personal information. Although fraud isn't 100% preventable, you can help protect yourself and catch fraud quickly by knowing the latest tricks and schemes.

Take a look at this list of 12 common scams to avoid during the holidays:

#1: Look-alike Websites

Scammers are targeting online shoppers more than ever, especially during the frantic holiday shopping season. Many times, scammers “spoof" popular brands with phony websites designed to capture payment information. Double-check the web address for extra words or misspellings. Before making a purchase, look for the lock symbol and “https" in the URL, which indicate a website is secure.

#2: Phishy Emails

As the holidays approach, stay vigilant -of suspicious emails. In a phishing attack, scammers pose as legitimate sources in hopes of tricking people into handing over personal information like their passwords and account numbers. These emails are often urgent or even threatening in tone. If an email seems fishy, don't click on any links, or open any attachments. Instead, contact the source directly to verify if they're really trying to reach you.

#3: Phony Social Media Ads

When scrolling through social media during the holidays, don't be duped by highly-targeted ads from unfamiliar retailers. All too often, shady brands promise irresistible offers on trendy gifts to trick shoppers into buying a low-quality (or counterfeit) item that looks nothing like the advertisement. In some cases, victims have paid for something they never receive at all! Play it safe, read reviews and stick with well-known brands you can trust.

#4: “Secret Santa" Social Media Gift Exchanges

An invitation to participate in an anonymous holiday gift exchange on social media may seem harmless, but beware — it can expose your private information to strangers looking to steal your identity. These gift exchanges are actually illegal pyramid schemes that rely on recruiting people to keep the scam going. Chances are, you'll end up buying gifts for someone and receive nothing in return!

#5: Seasonal Employment Scams

Scammers know that everyone can use a little extra cash around the holidays, which is why they post phony seasonal jobs designed to steal your hard-earned money.

In the classic “secret shopper" job scheme, fraudsters will send you a check to buy products, then tell you to deposit it in your account via ATM or mobile deposit channel, and wire part of the money back to them for “fees" or “taxes." But there's a catch — the check was fake, so any funds you send are your own money. Always steer clear of any jobs that ask you to wire money or pay an upfront fee.

#6: Delivery Scams

Holiday shopping typically brings a flurry of package deliveries, and scammers are ready to take advantage. Posing as delivery companies, scammers will send urgent text or email alerts claiming you need to click a link or provide personal information to receive your package.

To protect yourself, always track the packages you order so you know exactly when to expect them. If you receive an unexpected shipping alert, call the delivery service directly to verify.

#7: Puppy Scams

Thinking about getting a puppy as a gift this season? Be careful about buying puppies (or any pet) online, especially around the holidays. Scammers are known to lure victims in with cute puppy photos and ask for an upfront deposit paid via pre-paid gift card or wire transfer. In the end, the scammer won't give you a puppy at all — it was just a trick to steal your hard-earned money.

#8: Bogus Charities

The holidays are a great time to give back to others, but make sure you know where your donations are really going. Fraudsters may contact you pretending to be a made-up charity or even a well-known organization. Take your time to research, and don't let anyone pressure you into making a donation. This is a classic scammer technique!

#9: Sketchy Payment Methods

Scammers love any form of payment that's hard to trace, such as wire transfers, cryptocurrency, gift cards and even peer-to-peer payment apps like Venmo and CashApp. If you're shopping for gifts and someone only accepts an unusual form of payment, that's a red flag. In most cases, using a credit card for online purchases is a more secure option.

#10: Fake Travel Giveaways

Dreaming of a winter getaway? Watch out for holiday travel offers that seem too good to be true — they probably are! If someone contacts you out of the blue offering a steep discount on vacation packages, airfare or lodging or even claiming you've won an all-expense paid trip, be suspicious. Always do your research before booking a trip, and remember, you can't win a contest you never entered in the first place.

#11: Card Skimmers

If you're planning a holiday road trip, you may end up visiting unfamiliar gas stations and ATMs. Keep an eye out for skimmers, tiny devices thieves place over actual card readers to steal data from credit and debit cards. Look for signs of tampering with the card reader, including the card slot and PIN pad. Likewise, keep a close eye on all your account statements and report any suspicious activity. Scammers will often test stolen cards with small transactions, hoping their victims won't notice.

#12: Sneaky Holiday-themed Apps

From Christmas countdowns to “chat with Santa" games, there are countless holiday apps aimed at children. Before you download a new app for your kids, read reviews and set permissions (such as in-app purchases) accordingly. For example, some free apps are designed to capture personal data. Others may have misleading ads that children can unknowingly click on and spend real money.

Keep Your Holidays Fraud-Free!

As always, Wright-Patt Credit Union (WPCU) is here to help you protect your personal financial information and avoid becoming a victim of fraud. Looking for more fraud prevention tips, tools and resources? Visit our Fraud Prevention page. Happy Holidays!