Holiday Shoppers: Watch Out for Scamming Grinches
By Al Perales, Investigator, Iowa Attorney General’s Office
Although the holiday season will be different this year, I am really looking forward to the joy the holidays bring.
The holidays are also a time for shopping and the giving of gifts. Unfortunately, that means scammers will be targeting shoppers. Due to COVID-19, there are two things working in con artists’ favor: More of our older Iowans are isolated and online shopping is surging.
I hope you will help your pal Al stop these grinches from stealing your identity, money and holiday joy by making sure you are aware of the latest fraud and scams targeting shoppers this holiday season.
- Order Confirmation Scams: In this scam, fraudsters send a fake email wanting you to confirm an online order or update shipping information to entice you to click a link and install malware. In this top scam in Iowa, we’re mainly seeing fake Amazon emails with a different twist on the scam. They send a fake email for an item you did NOT order and try to offer you a refund. But they refund way more money into your account than the item costs. The Amazon imposter pleads with you to send the surplus money back right away, so they don’t get into trouble. However, the money refunded to your account was counterfeit, much like a counterfeit check, but you are alerted to this after you already sent the money back.
- E-Skimming: You may remember credit card numbers being skimmed at gas station and other retail readers to make fraudulent purchases. The same thing is happening on unsecured e-commerce sites. A consumer clicks on a link and is redirected to a look-alike, but malicious, website where a skimming code captures credit card information from the check-out form.
- Fake Online Stores & Apps: Do not use websites without https:// (the “s” stands for secure site) or a padlock before the website address. Often scammers offer the hottest gifts at a super-low price, driving you to the bogus site through social media ads with offers that are way too good to be true. Once they get your credit card number, they make fraudulent charges and you never receive the gift. Sometimes they offer you free items, but once you click on the link, they download malware. Also, be careful when downloading well-known retailer apps. Scammers create look-alike apps which place ransomware on your phone once you download it, denying you access to your phone until you pay up.
- Gift Cards: It’s best to buy gift cards from the retailer’s online store, as cards sold on display racks at grocery stores may have had their security-code strip scratched off and already been activated, depleting the card’s value. Scammers also like to ask for gift cards for a payment as they are less trackable. Always beware of anyone asking you to pay with gift cards.
- Porch Pirates & Curbside Pick-Up Imposters: Last year, 36% of Americans reported having their packages stolen at least once. If you aren’t working from home during the pandemic, perhaps have packages delivered to a friend or family member who is home. If you are ordering online for curbside store pickup, make sure the store has a policy for checking your identity so an imposter does not steal your packages.
I always recommend using a credit card versus a debit card for shopping, setting up transaction alerts and monitoring your accounts daily during the shopping season. Also, use guest checkout versus storing your credit card information on retailer sites and make sure your home or mobile devices are protected with antivirus, anti-spyware and a firewall. By following these tips and being aware and cautious, you can keep your money and information safe — and enjoy a wonderful holiday season!