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Stay One Step Ahead of Holiday Scammers

Fraudsters use a variety of tactics to take advantage of people shopping online. Here are some things to look for to stay safe

A woman is using a computer to shop online while holiday a credit card

Alamy Stock Photo/AARP

Bob Edwards:

Hello, I'm Bob Edwards with an AARP Take on Today.

Bob Edwards:

The pandemic forced many to shop online last year and the upsurge continues into 2021. According to a recent AARP survey, three quarters of adults said they'll buy gifts online this holiday season. Although it's popular and convenient experts, urge caution. Scammers can use your holiday shopping as a tool for their schemes.

Bob Edwards:

There are more pitfalls than you might expect. Online shopping, shipping gifts, and even charitable donations, they're all targets for scammers during the holidays.

Bob Edwards:

Here to talk about what you need to do to protect yourself is Amy Nofziger, AARP Director of Fraud Victim Support.

Bob Edwards:

Amy, welcome. Always great to talk with you.

Amy Nofziger:

Thank you for having me.

Bob Edwards:

What scams should people be looking out for during the holidays this year?

Amy Nofziger:

Certainly what we're already seeing this holiday season are primarily online shopping scams. We're getting a lot of reports about fake shipping notifications, coming in usually via text or email.

Amy Nofziger:

Then sadly, we're already hearing about a lot of charity fraud this time of year.

Bob Edwards:

We're noticing more and more people are using peer-to-peer apps like Cash App, Venmo, and Zelle. Are these secure methods?

Amy Nofziger:

What I will say about these peer-to-peer apps is that it's safe to use when you're using it with family and friends and people you know. That is what their whole intended purpose is. The name itself is peer-to- peer, not stranger-to-stranger.

Amy Nofziger:

So if you are doing online shopping, whether it's on even Craigslist or eBay, or even anywhere, and someone asks for payment in this way, walk away. Run away. Do not do it because once you send the money to this person, it is unretrievable and untraceable.

Bob Edwards:

Yeah. We've talked about the fact that scammers like to be paid via gift cards, but what's the risk in buying a gift card for a loved one?

Amy Nofziger:

So you're absolutely right. Prepaid gift cards are the number one preferred method for scammers to get paid. So if anyone asks you to buy a gift card and give them the information off the back, do not do it.

Amy Nofziger:

If you want to buy a gift card, to give as a gift to a friend or family, perhaps you want to surprise a beloved teacher with one, certainly make sure to inspect the front and the back of the gift card to make sure it has not been tampered with. Criminals can go into stores, copy the information down, and wait for you to load money on there. Even better yet, order it offline, or make sure you buy it closer up to the point-of-sale by the cashiers, where it's less likely to be tampered with.

Bob Edwards:

Just yesterday, I got an email from a company offering the online service. Actually, they said they were going to continue the online service that I had already bought, which I hadn't. $300 and what I called them and confirm this with them.

Bob Edwards:

When I called, of course they wanted my credit card number to make sure that they had it right. They said they already charged it, but they wanted me to confirm it with them. Heard that one before?

Amy Nofziger:

Yeah, absolutely. We're hearing those, especially with security systems like Norton Antivirus, or even entertainment things like Netflix or Hulu.

Amy Nofziger:

So if you receive one of those as text messages or emails saying, did you make this charge or do you approve this charge? If you didn't, call this customer service phone number. Don't do it. If you do have that service, just go into your account that you have, safely and securely, and check to see if there's any issues.

Amy Nofziger:

These scammers are sending out these fake notifications and hiring fake customer service reps to pretend that they are the legitimate company. And of course it's going to lead you to nothing but credit card fraud and potentially identity theft.

Bob Edwards:

People often donate to charity during the holiday season. How can one be sure that they're not donating to a fake charity?

Amy Nofziger:

Certainly do your research. There's many watchdog groups out there for charities. Charity Navigator is one. Give.org is another. Make sure to do your research on the charity. We want people to give. We just want them to give to legitimate charities. There are so many wonderful charities out there that need our donations.

Amy Nofziger:

Also, one of the biggest red flags I tell people is, if the charity is doing a high pressure, emotional sell on you, that's a red flag. Legitimate charities want you to feel good about your generous donation, not guilty.

Bob Edwards:

Of course, we have the dreaded porch pirates. When you buy something online, it gets delivered to your doorstep. That's an opportunity for someone to steal the items. How can people avoid that problem?

Amy Nofziger:

If you know, you're going to be having a package delivered and you're not going to be able to be home, ask a neighbor or a friend to retrieve it. See what the shipping company can offer to you. Can they delay the shipment till the next day when you're going to be home? Can you have a secured lockbox on your porch? Can you even have it delivered to one of those secured lockers that are advertised?

Amy Nofziger:

Also people suggest perhaps investing in one of those camera doorbells, so you can find out what's going on. But you're exactly right. Those porch pirates, they follow the trucks around the neighborhood. Once a package is delivered, they are right there to steal it.

Bob Edwards:

What else should people be aware of when shipping packages?

Amy Nofziger:

You know, one of the things I will say is make sure, especially with the current events that are happening right now with some of the supply issues that are going on, is to keep a running list of what you are shipping, when it's supposed to be delivered, who it potentially will be shipped by, and just why much out for any text messages or emails that you might receive that say there's a problem with your shipment.

Amy Nofziger:

We know that this is a very popular scam right now and we are all so busy. We're in the hustle and bustle of the holidays. If we get that text message that says our package is delayed, we might go ahead and just click on the link and not think about it. So, having a spreadsheet, something that you can look at to say, oh no, I never even ordered from this company. Why would I be having a shipping delay? Can just keep you safe this holiday season.

Bob Edwards:

Anything else consumers should know this holiday season?

Amy Nofziger:

I think the thing is to just have a wonderful and enjoyable time. I know we're all back out in the community. Stay safe. When approached with an opportunity that just seems like it's a little off, be skeptical. Ask a friend. Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline. Just do what you can to keep yourself safe.

Bob Edwards:

Amy Nofziger is AARP Director of Fraud Victims Support. Thanks so much, Amy.

Amy Nofziger:

Thanks for having me.

Bob Edwards:

The AARP Fraud Watch Network is a free resource for all. If you suspect a scam,, you can call in to (877) 908-3360. The toll free service is available Monday through Friday 7:00 AM to 11:00 PM Eastern Time.

Bob Edwards:

That's it for today's show. If you like this episode, please let us know by emailing us at news podcast@aarp.org.

Bob Edwards:

Thanks to our news team producers, Colby Nelson and Danny Alarcon. Engineer, Julio Gonzales. Executive producer, Jason Young, and my co-host Wilma Consul and Mike Ellison. Become a subscriber on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Stitcher or other apps. And be sure to rate our show as well.

Bob Edwards:

For an AARP Take on Today, I'm Bob Edwards. Thank you much for listening.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been a massive surge in online shopping rather than going to brick-and-mortar stores. Although online shopping is convenient, experts like AARP Director of Fraud Victim Support Amy Nofziger urge caution. Listen in as she discusses the various ways you might encounter a scammer when shopping online.

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