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Despite the economic downturn, it can be expected that the holiday season is again one where people’s hearts and wallets are open. Scammers and fraudsters know this as no other. In this article I would like to bring some of the scams you can expect again this year back to your attention. I can hear you think, “yes, I know” but at the same time people and businesses seem to be falling for those same old scams year in year out again. In a way it is similar to those Nigerian letters. You would think that by now no one would fall for them anymore but believe me when I say that thousands appear to be falling for them still, despite all the warnings and available information out there on the net. So why not bring the most common scams to be expected (again) this holiday back to your attention. You can still leave your heart open, but make sure that wallet is not left unprotected for those with less spirited intentions.
The Charity Scam
There they are, rattling a collection box while you are out there doing your Christmas shopping or at your front door hoping to touch your heart with yet another good cause. They may be dressed up for the occasion or even wear fake badges, some would go as far as taking children along on their rounds making it look all the more convincing and genuine. Who could resist that young child looking at you from down below with those begging eyes? You hand over you money to a scammer and the child is rewarded with some extra goodies for being there to support his caretaker in this noble spirited quest.
The badge looks real but do you actually take the time to verify a.) whether this is actually a genuine collection and b.) whether or not this person is actually a genuine collector? A simple word processing program, colour printer and some lamination equipment and within 5 minutes you can probably produce a very genuine looking badge. The best remedy is probably that if you don’t actually know who you are dealing with check things out before you give. Find the charity on the net and donate directly. And when you do want to give while out and about holiday shopping, look for the ones that are actually inside the store. Very likely they would have to have obtained permission to do their collection in there and therefore they are a somewhat safer bet.
Furthermore watch out for telephone solicitations. Let’s be honest I could call you right now and how you be sure that I actually am whom I purport to be. WHATEVER YOU DO DON’T GIVE OUT ANY DETAILS THAT COULD BE USED FOR IDENTIFY THEFT!
Christmas Shopping Scams
The doorbell goes again and you are ready to yell from the kitchen that you gave to another charity already. But when you open the door this well presenting gentleman is there with a nice collection of samples and a catalog with all those necessities you forgot to get.
They may purport to be a charity (see previous paragraph) or purport to be a door to door salesman. In any event be careful and whatever you, do not hand over any money and most definitely not your credit card details unless you know who you are dealing with. There is a good chance you may pay for some of those goods from the catalogue and never see those goods and your money again. Don’t pay by credit card using one of these handy little credit card receipt makers. All your vital details are made available to the identity thief straight away. He may check your signature and guess what on the same side where he or she does the signature check the security number is found. You pay the small amount for the goods and subsequently you hand over enough details for someone with less noble intentions to go on a shopping spree with your credit card account.
And then there are of course those handy sites on line that sell everything you need this Christmas, ordered in your pj’s while behind the computer. Fake holiday shopping sites are reported to be the fasted growing scam around, offering everything you may need and at very attractive prices, including those hard to get gifts, saving you hours and hours of trawling those overcrowded malls and shopping centers. Nowadays it is quite easy to set up professional looking sites and with a little bit of work it is very easy to make you believe the site is genuine. All kinds of impressive looking security and money back guarantee logos, brand names, raving testimonials from more than just satisfied customers.
Why did I never come to this site before? There is a good chance you typed a specific holiday gift in your search engine instead of going to the trusted site or inline shop you have been using on all other occasions. And now this site pops up with such great bargains. Well here is what the bargain very well may be: they do not just take your money for goods you will never receive, no they steal all your credit card details sold to another “Christmas shopper”, or use them for their own illegal benefit. Another option is that you get counterfeited goods from famous brands or jewelery that turns out to be fake. Yes that diamond shines beautiful under the Christmas tree but it takes on a completely different light when you have it valued for insurance purposes. Hmm your Rolex is genuine gold plated stainless steel instead of massive gold. Also beware of all kinds of online auctions offering too good to be true deals. Keep in mind here that of it sounds too good to be true it usually is! Just like Santa flying off in his sledge, they will be long gone by the time you start inquiring about that belated Christmas present or with your credit card details, leaving you cleaned out for the rest of the festive season.
Beware of pickpockets
If there is one thing I truly dislike in general it is overcrowded shops. So, you can just imagine how I feel when it is time for the festive season shopping. Not only are the shops twice as overcrowded but people are extra pushy and neurotic, all in a hurry to make sure they get their Christmas shopping right. Pickpockets use a very simple mathematical calculation when they set out their “business strategy”: CROWDS = BIG REWARDS.
In these days of identity theft the rewards are even better. Not only will you lose your cash, but also credit cards, bank cards, often a driver’s license, identity card and whatever else you are keeping in there. So you not just handed them over the quick reward of cash but also enough to provide them with a very merry Christmas on your expense. And once they are done shopping they can sell your info to the highest bidder or use it themselves to apply for credit and ruin your credit rating. And yes you’ll be busy this Christmas but not in the way you expected it to be: trying to control damages by contacting understaffed alarm provisions that have a hard time coping with the demand. The ladies and gentlemen at the cash register are probably too busy to do a good check on your signature if at all. So, by the time you actually noticed your wallet to be missing they will have maxed out your card already. I already had an older lady come in this month: within less than 15 minutes, pickpockets had used her credit card to purchase for around $3000, taken around $2000 of her bank account using her bank cards. The excess risk charged by the lady’s bank was enough to ruin the lady’s chances of a nice holiday season.
All it takes is a distractive bump from an accomplice or anything else that distracts your attention or to make things even easier, an open purse with the wallet in plain sight, for grabs as it were, because that saves you so many valuable seconds going from cash register to cash register. And why leave it at just your wallet: with a bit of luck and skill you will just offer them an opportunity to also lift some of those presents straight from the bags for you to come back empty handed at your car or public transport stop.
My advice: keep your wallet secure preferably in a closed purse or bag or keep your hand in your pocket on your wallet. Travel “light”: leave unnecessary items at home, such as spare credit cards, debit cards, membership cards and other things you do not use while out for your Christmas shopping.
You know those people, they are carrying around (or better yet trying to carry around) ten or more bags at the same time. I’d advise against it, you run an increased risk of losing of overseeing one or more of those bags or the contents in it, but it also makes you a more attractive target or mark for a pickpocket. Instead return to your car more often and lock away new purchases in the boot, out of sight so that you do not transfer your risk to your car, becoming an attractive target for car burglars.
Co-founder of the Arcis Fraud Discovery & Exposure Centre