The holidays are a busy time of year. We rush around trying to get last-minute gifts, our brains are overloaded with to-do lists, and time seems to be moving faster than a runaway train, leaving us feeling overwhelmed and out of control. While this may not be the norm for some, it is for countless others. It is during times like these that we are less likely to notice when things are not quite right. We are run down and rushed so our radar for detecting atypical activity or recognizing moments when we should be paying special attention is not operating at maximum capacity or even at all.
Did You Know?
- Three-quarters of the way into 2019, $74 million has been reported lost in scams involving gift cards and reload cards, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- Reported losses for all of 2018 were $78 million—up from $40 million a year earlier.
- According to a report from CNBC, online fraud attempts increased 22% between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve in 2017.
- In 2018, malware infections in the US rose 123% between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday.
- CBS News reports that cyberattacks tend to see 317% increase around the holidays, as compared to an average month.
Top Scams to Look Out For
More and more people are ordering gifts online and having them shipped to their home. This is prime time for thieves wanting to make some quick cash. Instead of having them delivered to your home, have it delivered to your place of business or a relative or friend’s house who you know will be home. You can also opt to pick it up from the store. If having it delivered to your home is the only option, ensure you are going to be home at the delivery time and require a signature, so the box isn’t left outside. You can also provide specific instructions regarding delivery, such as leaving the box around back under the deck.
Avoid clicking on links in emails sent to you regarding the delivery of goods. Cybercriminals create fake emails they claim are from UPS, FedEx, and UPS. They also create emails that appear to be coming directly from retailers. Victims click on the link and instantly have malware installed on their computer. A best practice to employ is to go straight to the source to track your packages or handle questions regarding your goods. If you go to the delivery service’s or retailer’s website directly using your confirmation or tracking number, you can avoid these issues.
Christmas is about giving to others and extending a helping hand to those in need. Many are filled with the spirit of giving during the holiday season and want to seek out ways to provide monetary support. Unfortunately, criminals recognize this and seek to exploit this generosity through the establishment of fake charity websites, setting up fake profiles on platforms such as “GoFundMe,” or soliciting donations via email or phone call. Ask questions! If a charity calls you, ask specific questions about the charity and how the donations will be used. Send a check. Don’t give them gift card information or send cash. Do your research! You can research charities at CharityNavigator.org, or you can check out organizations at Give.org, CharityWatch.org, or GuideStar.org. Regarding crowdfunding, only support people you know or friends of those you know.
According to the National Retail Federation, they estimate there will be about $27.5 billion in holiday gift card sales this year. There are many ways criminals can use these cards to get at your hard-earned money:
- They will take a bar code from a purchased gift card, make a bunch of official-looking stickers with the bar code, then place them on cards that haven’t been sold yet. Someone buys the card and loads money on it, and the money goes to the criminal’s card instead.
- Criminals also copy gift card numbers, then scratch off the coverings above their PIN, giving them access to card balances once they’re activated later. Then they replace the code coverings with stickers that can be bought online.
- Criminals will leave the PIN covering intact and instead use online bots or other computer software to guess the PIN code. Oftentimes, the codes are four digits, making them easy to figure out.
- Little-known websites will advertise gift cards for popular retailers at steep discounts. These offers might be an attempt to steal your payment card numbers or other personal information.
Buying gift cards directly from the retailer or restaurant online is safer. If you must buy one from a rack in a store, ensure it is packaged really well since there will be less chance of it being tampered with or buy one from behind the store counter.
Simple Guidelines for Protecting Yourself
- Ensure all websites you visit have a URL that starts with “https,” which indicates that the site is private and secure.
- Do not pay with a gift card, cash, or wiring money as these methods are hard to trace or refund, and according to the Federal Trade Commission, are typically how scammers prefer to make people pay.
- Don’t click on any links inside emails sent to you regarding goods purchased or in route. Go directly to the source’s website to track or inquire.
- Scan all emails for viruses prior to opening.
- Secure your bank accounts and cards with strong passwords. Change the passwords regularly. Whenever you have the option of multi-factor authentication, use it.
- Do your research.
As we head into 2020, do it with your eyes wide open because the statistics are showing a growing trend of holiday scamming!
Sources: CNBC/ Consumerreports.org/ USAtoday.com/ Forbes
© Geier Asset Management, Inc. January 2020. Gregory Palacorolla, CFP ® is Director of Wealth Management for Geier Asset Management, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor. The articles & opinions expressed in this material were gathered from a variety of sources, but are reviewed by Geier Asset Management, Inc. prior to its dissemination. All sources are believed to be reliable but do not constitute specific investment advice. The views expressed are those of the firm as of January 2020 and are subject to change. These opinions are not intended to be a forecast of future events, a guarantee of results, or investment advice. Any advice given is general in nature and investors must consider their own individual circumstances. In all cases, please contact your investment professional before making any investment choices. Geier Asset Management, Inc. is not responsible for any damages or losses arising from any use of this information. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.