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By Alix Gorshow / Dec 17, 2013

Top 5 Holiday Hoaxes to Watch Out For

Holiday Hoaxes

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‘Tis the season when most people are thinking of ways they can put a smile on the face of their loved ones. It’s also when bogus charities are looking to do the opposite. Here’s a list of the top five holiday hoaxes to be aware of this year:

1. Cybersquatting

This is a very popular hoax in which a scammer will take the name of a well-known company and slightly alter it in order to steal credit card information. This year, “Overstock” is a scammer site of choice, warns the Better Business Bureau.

How to Protect Yourself from Cybersquatting

If you want to shop from Overstock.com (or any other popular company), be sure to double-check the URL to make sure it doesn’t have any extra words after the dot-com, missing letters, misspellings, or other tweaks to the name. Another clue that you may be on a fake site: there isn’t a phone number and physical address (be wary if there’s only one) under the “Contact Us” page.

Double check that the payment page has “https” at the beginning of the URL not just “http,” the “s” stands for “secure.” If you’re still unsure about the legitimacy of a site, visit the Better Business Bureau to see if the information provided on the site matches the actual information from the company.

2. Charity Hoax

‘Tis the season to give back; it’s also the season for crooks to prey on the good hearts of unsuspecting donors. Scammers will call, e-mail, post, show up at your door or even send you a text message pretending to be part of a legitimate charity asking for your donation.

If you’ve never given that charity your email or phone number, there’s a pretty good chance it’s coming from a bogus charity collector. There’s no need to rush into donating. If it’s the real charity, they will gladly accept your donation at any time.

How to Protect Yourself from a Bogus Charity

Pay attention to charities that sound very similar – such as the National Heart Association instead of the actual American Heart Association. Never give cash to charities and never send a money transfer to an individual for a charity (a legitimate charity will probably never ask you to this).

If you receive a phone call or door solicitation from a charity you haven’t donated to in the past, ask for additional materials to be sent and authenticated before giving away your money. If unsure, check the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance for reviews of over 11,000 charities to make sure your gift is headed to a reputable organization.

3. Fake Shipping Notifications

Ordering online is a very popular shopping method over the holiday season and a perfect chance for a swindler to pose as FedEx, UPS or the United States Post Office. They will send you an email saying there’s an undeliverable package waiting for you and to click the links provided to remedy the situation.

The links will typically download malware, one of which may be a common one called “ransomware.” This virus phishes for personal and banking information and then locks your computer, at which point the scammer demands for a ransom in order to unlock your data.

How to Protect Yourself from Fake Shipping Notifications

If you receive a shipping notification, double check with the mail courier before clicking on the link, just because the email looks like it’s coming from a reputable source doesn’t mean it is. In general, it’s always a good idea to avoid clicking on links in emails – either copy and paste the link into the address bar, or type it in yourself.

Look out for spelling or grammatical mistakes in the email, this is typically a sign it’s a scam. If you receive a postcard to call about a package, be wary of numbers starting with 809, 876, or 284 as they will route you to the Caribbean – a hotspot for scammers to get you to pay pseudo fees or run up a high long-distance charge.

Lastly, if an email is asking you act immediately, best not fall for it. Call the number or look up the courier before clinking on any links.

4. The Gift Card Ruse

A common attack spot for thieves is the unattended gift card rack. All they have to do is peel and copy or scan the underneath code from the scratch-off strip and wait for you to buy and activate the card, at which point they have all access to start making purchases.

Additionally, be wary of offers online for discounted gift cards. The scammer may pocket your money and keep the gift card for themselves.

How to Protect Yourself from the Gift Card Ruse

Buy the gift card from the company’s website or go to the customer service counter. Check that the scratch-off is still intact and have the cashier activate the card in front of you. Above all, give your recipient a gift receipt just in case.

5. Holiday E-Card Hoax

E-cards from an unnamed “friend,” admirer or from someone you don’t know is clue it’s probably a malware link. It’s a good idea to even be cautious of a card from someone you do know as a botnet virus could have captured your email address and sent you the link.

How to Protect Yourself from a Holiday E-Card Hoax

A genuine e-card has a confirmation code that will safely allow you to access the card at the issuing site. Still in doubt? Ask the sender if they sent you an e-card; it never hurts to be over-cautious when it comes to things on the internet.

In the end, it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you’re unsure or feeling weary about a website, charity, email – whatever it is – double check its legitimacy. While this may be the time of year for giving, don’t let the scammers be the ones who reap all the glory.