By Josh Stein
The holiday season can bring out the best of people’s generosity of spirit. Travel, time spent with people we love, and efforts to reach out to help our neighbors in need all enrich our enjoyment. But it’s also a busy time for scammers, who ramp up their efforts to steal your money or your personal or financial information. This holiday season, protect yourself and your finances from holiday scams by taking these precautions.
If you’re shopping online or on your phone, watch out for fake websites or apps that look like they belong to a well-known store. These copycat websites and apps often closely resemble the business’s brand or have a URL that’s close to the real thing. Double-check the URL by looking for a lock icon and checking that it starts with “https:”. Only share financial information or make purchases when you’re on a secured WiFi network. If you send financial information over an unsecured WiFi network, it’s more susceptible to hackers. And no matter how you’re shopping, always use a credit card. If there’s an issue, you can dispute the transaction later.
When you make an online purchase, watch out for potential delivery scams. Sometimes scammers will send fake emails claiming to provide shipping updates, but the phony links in these emails will ask you to share personal information. Scrutinize these delivery emails closely, and remember that UPS, FedEx and other shippers won’t ask for personal information via email.
Packages that stack up outside your front door or porch are an easy steal for porch poachers. Track your packages so you know when they’ll arrive and can ensure they are delivered safely. Consider opting for deliveries that require a signature, or ask a neighbor to collect your packages if you’re not around. If you plan to be out of town but expect deliveries, consider having your mail held at the post office until you get back.
Charitable donations also increase during the holidays, when the spirit of goodwill is in full swing. But you want to make sure that your donation is going to help reputable charities, not to line criminals’ pockets, so do your research before giving. Watch out for charities with phony names that sound a lot like recognizable charities. Give to charities you are personally familiar with or that operate in your local community. You can find more tips about donating to charity and resources to research charities at ncdoj.gov/charity.
For more information on common holiday scams and how to avoid them, visit www.ncdoj.gov/dontgettaken. And if you think you or someone you know has been the victim of a scam, file a complaint with my office’s Consumer Protection Division at http://ncdoj.gov/complaint or by phone at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.
The holiday season is a special time of year. I pray yours is safe and happy.
Josh Stein serves as attorney general for North Carolina.