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'Tis the Season of Holiday Scams

12 ways to avoid cons and fraud this shopping season

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8. If you receive electronic holiday greeting cards, delete — without clicking on links — any that are sent by an unrecognized name or an unnamed "friend," "admirer" or even "webmaster@hallmark.com." These mass greetings likely contain malware. Legitimate card notifications should include a confirmation code that you use at the issuing website to safely open the card.

9. Don't believe emails claiming that FedEx, UPS, DHL or the U.S. Postal Service is trying to deliver a package to you, and that you'll get details by clicking on a link. That's another holiday hoax to install malware. Unless you previously provided your email address, courier services will not contact you this way.

10. Did you instead receive a mailed postcard about that "undeliverable" package? This scam baits you to telephone for details. Without knowing it, you're making an expensive overseas call. You may be prompted to reveal personal information. If you think you may truly have missed a package, look up the delivery service's number yourself and call it.

11. Donation drives increase during the holidays but give wisely. Unless you previously provided your email address, assume any email solicitation is a fraud. Never give a credit card number to a person who telephones you. Ask to be mailed brochures so that you can authenticate the organization before you give. Never give cash. Be especially suspicious of cold-call requests from charities that claim to be collecting on behalf of police and firefighters, sick or needy children, veterans, or disaster relief (such as Hurricane Sandy). Those hot-button causes are common scams specifically targeting older donors.

12. When giving or receiving computers as gifts, secure them with comprehensive "security suite" software. If you store files on a flash or portable hard drive, use security software to ensure your information is unreadable if the device is lost or stolen.

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.

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