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How to Avoid an Unhappy Holiday

Updated: Oct 29, 2023

We’re usually on our best behavior during this time of year. So it’s a damn shame when scammers — the dark underside of this festive season — exploit our holiday cheer and good will toward men.

When it comes to fraud, it’s not too paranoid to think other folks are out to get you. Other folks really are out to get you — especially during the holidays.

Nearly 75% of Americans responding to a 2021 AARP survey said they have experienced at least one holiday scam. The FBI says holiday scams ran rampant in 2021, with Americans losing $6.9 billion to fraudsters, including more than $330 million in online shopping and non-delivery scams.

Losing their hard-earned money is not the worst thing that happens to fraud victims. In the process of taking our money, scam artists often trick us into divulging our bank account and Social Security numbers, or credit and debit card information. This form of identity theft creates a secondary market for scammers, who sell the information to other criminals.

What are some of the most popular (if that’s the right word) holiday scams?

A year ago, 38% of the AARP survey respondents said fake charities tried to steal their money. Meanwhile, 35% revealed they were victims of fraud when they purchased a product online. And 34% said they received an online notification about a fake shipment issue, sometimes for a product they hadn’t purchased.

The number and types of scams boggle the mind. Lookalike online retailers offer fake discounts or worthless gift cards. Bogus emails or texts — ostensibly from trusted companies — ask for personal information. Social media sites carry fake ads for deeply discounted and popular products. Unscrupulous scammers offer fraudulent seasonal job offerings and raid victims’ bank accounts when worthless paychecks are deposited.

Not all scams take place online.

Porch Pirates

Sometimes, the Postal Service and other shipping companies are unwitting collaborators to thieves and their unrelenting greed. Results from the AARP survey revealed 25% of respondents were victims of porch pirates, those pitiful souls who steal packages shipping companies deliver to your front door.

The Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of USPS, has some suggestions on how to avoid package or mail theft:

  • Retrieve your mail and packages daily.

  • Deposit mail or packages in collection boxes close to pickup times. Better yet, take them directly to the post office.

  • Inquire about overdue mail or packages.

  • Use the “hold for pickup” service when you mail packages, allowing recipients to retrieve their packages at their post office.

Avoiding Online Scams

Here are some tips to help avoid online scams from Aura, a digital security firm:

  • Research retailers before shopping.

  • Don’t open attachments or click on links if you don’t know the sender. Never provide sensitive information through email.

  • Don’t share information with unfamiliar companies or websites.

  • Never trust unsolicited phone calls.

  • Don’t use debit cards for online purchases.

  • Buy gift cards from trusted vendors.

  • If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Guide to Avoid Porch Piracy

As the holidays approach, people are budgeting for the season of gift-giving. Alarmingly, 1 in 7 Americans fall victim to porch pirates, risking the loss of hard-earned money and heartfelt presents. With the rise in online shopping during the holidays, prioritizing delivery safety is crucial for a stress-free celebration.

To help homeowners protect their holiday packages from these real-life grinches, This Old House Reviews team created a guide featuring 9 essential tips to prevent porch piracy, along with actionable steps to take if theft occurs.

Enough grinch talk. Enjoy a safe and happy holiday, with best wishes for a happy and prosperous new year.

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