It’s the most wonderful time of the year and scammers are out in full-force trying to take advantage of your holiday cheer. While it’s impossible to know every scam out there, the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs (SCDCA) wants consumers to know some common red flags of holiday scams and shopping tips to keep you safe this season.
Some common red flags of a holiday scam:
• Asks you to pay in prepaid debit cards, gift cards, wire or bank transfer. Prepaid debit and gift cards are used like cash. Once in the hands of a fraudster, the money is gone and nearly impossible to trace. Same goes for a wire or bank transfer.
• Asks you to verify personal information. Scammers love cash but your private information is just as valuable. Whether it’s an email, over the phone or text message, never give any private information to a cold-caller. This approach is common with fake shipping notifications, delivery and tech scams.
• Asks for donations to a charity. You may be feeling more generous around the holidays and scammers create fake charities to take your hard-earned money. Before donating, go to the SC Secretary of State’s website to see if the charity is registered or call 1 (888) CHARITI (242-7484).
Tips for safe shopping online:
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If a product is advertised with a rock-bottom price compared to the suggested retail price, it’s a huge red flag of a scam. Be wary of deeply discounted prices, especially on third-party sites like eBay, Amazon and Facebook Marketplace. Always do research by looking at reviews and checking other retailers for price comparisons. Selling something? Be wary of a scammer sending you a check for more than they owe, asking you to deposit it and return the extra cash.
• Pick your payment type wisely. If you can, pay with a credit card when shopping online. It offers extra fraud protection, limiting what you owe if someone steals your information and allowing you to dispute certain charges, including if you don’t receive your order. Also, unlike a debit card, a credit card isn’t a direct line into your checking account.
• Review your financial statements. Security breaches often happen during heavily trafficked shopping times. Read your financial statements during the holidays and beyond, ensuring there are no errors or fraudulent charges. If there are, dispute them immediately.
• Don’t be fooled by a good-looking website. Just because a website looks good doesn’t mean it’s real. Websites are easy to create, and scammers often use a name similar to a real business. Do your homework before you drop any money by verifying the company’s physical address and telephone number. Check SCDCA’s complaint portal, the Better Business Bureau’s complaints and search for reviews of the company, too.
SCDCA is offering a free Holiday Scams webinar on Wednesday, November 18 from 10:30-11 a.m. If you would like to register, click here. If you’d like to see upcoming “Wednesday Webinar” topics, take a look at SCDCA’s calendar. For more tips on how to avoid scams, download our free guide to guarding against scams “Ditch the Pitch.”
The South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs aims to protect consumers from inequities in the marketplace through advocacy, complaint mediation, enforcement and education. To file a complaint or get information on consumer issues, visit www.consumer.sc.gov or call toll-free, 1 (800) 922-1594.