Hundreds of Ward 8 residents participate in the Cozy Christmas at Gateway toy giveaway sponsored by the Events DC and The Washington Informer Charities on Dec. 15. (Travis Riddick)
Hundreds of Ward 8 residents participate in the Cozy Christmas at Gateway toy giveaway sponsored by the Events DC and The Washington Informer Charities on Dec. 15, 2016. (Travis Riddick)

The season may be filled with a spirit of giving but it’s also a time to be on guard for scams. Holiday spending typically accounts for close to 20 percent of annual retail sales which are projected to reach $680 billion in 2017.

Unfortunately, crooks follow the money straight to our pocket. Here are tips to avoid being a victim of holiday scams:

• Online shopping – Retailers are projected to generate over 100 billion in online sales this year. Consumers should use a credit card as opposed to a debit card when shopping online. Credit cards come with better protections against fraud and liabilities.
• Fake retail websites – Only shop secure online locations and watch out for copycat websites. Avoid sites with URLs that use the names of well-known brands along with misplaced words. Don’t trust a site or name you don’t know!
• Discount Gifts – Everyone loves a bargain and sometimes we know we just found the deal of the century on this year’s hottest gift. Yet every online deal is not a bargain especially if you end up with counterfeit products or introduce malware to your computer. If it sounds too good to be true…you know the rest.
• Package Delivery Scam – Fake shipping notifications can really be a phishing scam. Fraudulent emails claiming to be from FedEx or the U.S. Postal Service have popped up with links to sites that download malware and steal personal information.
• E-Cards -Everyone enjoys a friendly holiday card but watch out for holiday e-cards sent by scammers. Red flags should go up when the sender’s name is not apparent or you are asked to provide personal information to receive your card.
• Grandma Calls – Be wary of emergency telephone calls from friends and family members claiming to having been arrested or in an accident and need of money. Verify the story with another family member or do not send a dime!
• Charity Scams – Fake charity scams increase during the holiday season and solicitations can arrive by mail, email, telephone or text. Do your research before making donations and support organizations you know. The website is a good place to start.
• Holiday Jobs – We all can use a little extra holiday cash but be careful of unsolicited holiday job offers. Scammers hold out the promise of employment to secure your personal information or payment for a job lead. Instead, Go directly to retailers, delivery services or other temporary employers for your holiday cheer.
• Gift Cards – Do not fall for “free” gift card offers supposedly from major retailers. These offers direct consumers to fake websites where you are asked to provide personal information to receive your card. Your identity and computer can be compromised resulting in theft. There really is no such thing as a free lunch.

• Holiday Vacations – Travel maybe a part of your holiday plans but proceed with precaution. Cybercriminals will offer super (and fraudulent) discounts on transportation and hotel expenses to gain access to your credit card and banking information. Stick with reputable travel sites and enjoy your visit.
• SMiShing – Text messaging fraud has grown with the increasing popularity of mobile devices. Scammers, posing as your bank, request personal information to supposedly protect your account. Legitimate financial institutions will not ask you to reveal sensitive information by text. Be on the safe side and contact your bank by telephone and confirm any problems.
• Online Games – Smartphones and tablets are holiday gift favorites that provide access to fun, online, interactive games. Cyber criminals may use online games to spread malware and pirate personal information, passwords and account information. Go with safe well-known app sources when downloading games and check independent sources for reviews.

Please do not hesitate to contact the District of Columbia Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking with questions or concerns about holiday scams and other financial issues. The Department regulates the city’s financial-services businesses. Its mission is to protect consumers by providing equitable, thorough, efficient, and prompt regulatory supervision of the financial services companies, firms, and individuals operating in the District of Columbia; and to develop and improve market conditions to attract and retain financial services firms in the District of Columbia. For more information please call 202-727-8000 or visit

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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