Holiday scams and how to avoid them

Holiday scamming comes in three different forms: seasonal job scams, gift card scams and fake charity scams

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Although scammers are actively trying to steal your information year round, the holiday season is a time when you should be extra cautious against them.

Local financial professional Jason Laux from Synergy Group explains how scammers change their tactics during this time of the year.

Retail fraud was up more than 30 percent during the 2016 holiday shopping season, with holiday spending expected to increase to $682 billion this year.

People just feel more generous and let their guards down during the season of giving, but scammers see this as an opportunity to really take advantage of people. Plus, more shopping is done this time of year.

Holiday scamming comes in three different forms — seasonal job scams, gift card scams and fake charity scams.

Seasonal employment is very common as people are looking to earn some extra cash. People who are in or near retirement may take a part-time, seasonal job to make money for gifts or to keep themselves busy. So, scammers will post fake job postings to take advantage of the situation.

A fake job posting will often ask you to pay money up front for “training costs” or even a “start-up kit.” If you see information like this in a job posting, it should be a red flag.

Gift cards are the most popular holiday gift — more than half of consumers say they plan to buy at least one. If you see an online ad or receive an email offering you a free gift card, don’t click on the link because it could be designed to collect your personal information.

Thieves will also try sending emails saying you’ve won a free gift card but need to send money to cover shipping and handling. Never give personal information in exchange for a gift card.

Because charitable giving peaks during the holiday season, scammers will try getting people to donate to a fake charity. They will even take the name of a well-known charity and make minor changes to it so you think it’s the real charity.

Always verify that a charity is real before donating to it, and check how much of your money will actually go to the cause. This is especially important if you are writing a check, which is one of the safest ways to donate because your money can be tracked.

Also, beware of email and phone requests for donations, and never donate using cash or wire transfer. Using a credit card is another safe option.

To avoid becoming a victim of scams, review your bank and credit account statements weekly, if not daily. If you notice a problem, report it to your bank or credit card company right away. You can also sign up for credit monitoring so you can be alerted when someone opens or attempts to open a new line of credit in your name.

Identity theft also peaks this time of year — one in every 16 American adults fell victim in 2016. So, to avoid it happening to you, always be aware of your surroundings when giving out personal information.

When a store clerk asks for an email address, zip code or phone number, you can and should decline because people may be listening. Also, never use public Wi-Fi to check your banking information or to make a purchase with a credit card, the connection might not be safe.

About 82 percent of shoppers say they will be buying gifts online this year. So, as always, do your homework when it comes to online shopping. If you come across a deal that seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Look up reviews of companies to determine their trustworthiness before entering any information. Only make purchases from websites you know and trust, and never click on pop-up ads because the websites could be fake.

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