Holiday shopping brings other concerns, including those who might just be looking for a steal — literally.
A study by AARP found that seven in 10 adults failed a short quiz on how to avoid becoming a scam victim.
“You have to be conscious of everything, I mean everything, around this time of the year,” said Fritz Nathan, a 17-year security veteran who works undercover at a District-area department store. “Being cautious isn’t enough. Keep your head up, clutch your wallet, and keep your eyes open.”
Along with the Better Business Bureau, the AARP and other organizations concur that consumers should be on the lookout for package theft, data breaches, fake charities, online shopping scams, gift cards and phishing attacks.
Thieves usually watch for opportunities to steal packages off doorsteps the moment a delivery driver pulls away. Among the suggestions is having packages sent to a store or another secure location.
“It’s best to use cash at this time of year for a variety of reasons,” Nathan said of potential data breaches. “With credit and debit cards, you never know if a machine has been hacked or somehow someone got your information and now your savings, your accounts, are exposed.”
AARP officials recommend consumers not make online purchases through public Wi-Fi networks, another easy way in which personal information can be exposed.
D.C. police and other law enforcement agencies also have had their share of responding to fake charities during the holidays.
Authorities strongly urge charitable individuals to thoroughly research an organization before making donations. Most attorney general offices have weblinks that allow for an investigation of companies.
“It’s an easy time for someone to just come up with a charity or to pretend to be an agent for a reputable nonprofit,” said Lucious Banks, a security officer who works with Nathan. “The holidays are about gift giving and everyone is in a charitable mood. But, it’s also when predators feel it’s easier to prey on victims and they’ll stop at nothing.”
It’s recommended that charitable donations are made by check rather than cash and those giving shouldn’t be persuaded by telephone calls, emails and in-person pressure, authorities said.
Both Nathan and Banks said scam artists know how to establish their own websites and make them look perfectly legitimate. In some cases, they’ve reportedly advertised sales that almost always appears too good to be true.
“You have to avoid that ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ deal that’s just too amazing,” Banks said.
Nathan said it’s not difficult to verify a web address, either.
“These crooks will create a URL that seems credible, but take a close look and you’ll see some letters are different than websites you are familiar with. That’s a major tip-off,” Nathan said.
Then there are gift cards that are available online for major discounts or, in some cases, for free.
“They just want your details, your personal information,” Banks said.
He also warned that stores that sell a large variety of gift cards could have problems too because scammers often write down the card numbers and then later call to check balances.
When they find that the card has been activated, they then use it to make online purchases.
Authorities said refrain from entering personal information when responding to online ads for gift cards. They said its best to purchase a gift card from a customer service person than to buy one from a display.
Nathan and Banks said don’t be tempted to click links even if it appears to have come in an email from someone you’re familiar with.
“If you don’t know the person that’s a red flag. But, sometimes the email address from which the email came is familiar,” Banks said. “If links are attached, call the person first and ask if they really sent it and for what reason before you open the link because, once you open it, all of your personal information can be swiped.”
For additional safety tips, go to the AARP Fraud Watch at http://local.aarp.org/washington-dc.