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Beware of Holiday Scams

The holiday season is a time when family and friends come together and celebrate with lots of fun and good cheer. However, it is also a prime time for scam artists to come out in full swing. When shopping for that perfect gift for family and friends, stay vigilant and be never let your guard down when it comes to where your money and personal information goes.

The District of Columbia Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB) wants you to be aware of potential scams while shopping. Below are a few helpful tips for safe holiday shopping.

Gift Cards — Some crooks are taking gift cards off the rack, scratching off the strip on the back to get the activation code and then, putting the card back on the rack. Protect yourself by checking the back of the card to make sure it’s not been tampered with before purchasing.

Consider Using Your Credit Card, Not Debit Card — Many credit cards offer zero liability fraud protection — that is if you are scammed, you wouldn’t be liable for any fraudulent charges. And in fact, under federal law, you are liable for only up to $50 of fraudulent use on a credit card. If a scammer gets your debit card and empties your bank account, you may have to wait for the financial institution to investigate the theft which could put you out money intended for bills or rent.

Use Secure Internet Connections — Many holiday shoppers incorrectly believe that it is safe to access sensitive information via free Wi-Fi networks as long as websites are secured by “https.” Actually, online security experts warn that consumers should never use public Wi-Fi to access bank accounts or to buy products.

Look for the Lock — When shopping online or when entering personal information on the web, make sure the website is security enabled. Look for the lock symbol and that the URL starts with https://. The “s” stands for secure.

Identity Theft — It’s a familiar sight: You are at the mall loaded down with shopping bags trying to navigate the shops and what’s next on your shopping list. While you are checking the sales rack, thieves wait for you to lose track of your purse or wallet so they can steal your cards, and maybe even your identity. Keep track of your wallet and belongings while shopping.

Phishing Emails — Phishing is when scammers acquire personal information such as log-ins or account information by appearing to be a legitimate business or financial institution. Phishing emails may contain malware; once in your computer, this software can capture your personal information and make you vulnerable to identity theft. During the holidays, phishers will try to trick you with fake holiday e-cards and websites advertising sensational deals. Make sure you are dealing with a real company: Check them with the Better Business Bureau.

Bogus Charities — These crop up every time there’s a major disaster, but they also show up at the holidays, taking advantage of those with big hearts. Leaflets and phone calls from organizations with familiar-sounding names will soon appear. To be safe, don’t give to any charity with whom you didn’t initiate the contact. Do your research and give to charities whose values align with your own.

Job Scams — Many retailers need extra help during the holidays. Knowing this, scammers will set up operations to “hire people,” making them pay a fee or complete a job application. Never pay for a job; the employer should be paying you. In addition, some holiday job scammers may ask you to fill out an application online when it’s really just a ploy to steal your personal information. Bottom line: Research the employer before you apply and never give money to get a job.

Postal Alerts — Watch out for postal delivery alerts via email or text stating you just received a package from FedEx, UPS or the U.S. Postal Service, and then asks you for some personal information. Don’t provide any personal information.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to be scared of every offer, deal or email you may receive, just be cautious. Happy Holidays!

For information on financial matters or to report abuse, email the District’s Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking at disbcomplaints@dc.gov, visit disb.dc.gov or call (202) 727-8000.

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Lucy Drafton-Lowery

Public Affairs Specialist, District of Columbia Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking

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