Don't Let a Financial Scam Ruin Your Holidays

12/6/2012, 3:30 p.m.

The holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year for scam artists, too. As you shop busily for family and friends at the mall or online, scammers are working just as hard to get their hands on your personal and financial information. They know this is when your wallets are open and generosity flows.

Protect yourself. Don't be a victim this holiday season, or at any time. The D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking advises you to beware of these common holiday scams:

Bogus Gift Cards - Gift cards are probably the perfect choice for a lot of people on your holiday gift list, and cybercriminals want in on the action by offering bogus cards online. Be wary of buying gift cards from third parties; buy only from the retailer.

Identity Theft - It's a familiar sight: You are at the mall loaded down with shopping bags trying to navigate the shops as you cross stuff off 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 identity and make charges on your credit cards. Keep track of your wallet and belongings while shopping.

Phishing E-mails - 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 - Scammers prey on your generosity during the holidays with pleas for charity. Don't let scammers prey on your good intentions - research the charity first with an Internet search, especially on websites such as Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org/.) Especially now, given all the companies and charities doing relief efforts for victims of superstorm Sandy, ensure your donation is going to the cause.

Triangle Credit Card Fraud - In this kind of scam, a fraudster poses as a seller on an online auction site or marketplace. The fraudster sells a product he or she doesn't have and then uses a stolen credit-card number to buy the item from a legitimate supplier and deliver it to the buyer. The scam artist has the money from the buyer while the legitimate supplier will usually find that the owner of the stolen credit card voids the purchase, leaving the supplier unpaid for the merchandise. It's called a triangle fraud because three parties are involved. Be sure to only place orders for online purchases with trusted sellers.

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. Never pay for a job; the employer should be paying you.

Remember, there is always someone looking to separate you from your money. But at this time of the year, the risk is higher. This year, prepare to celebrate the holiday season without scammers celebrating at your expense.

For information on financial matters or to report abuse, email the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking at disbcomplaints@dc.gov; go to www.disb.dc.gov; or call (202) 727-8000.