With the busy holiday season already upon us, it’s usually a joyous time to celebrate the festivities with friends and family, full of goodwill, giving, and cheer. Sadly, it’s also prime time for crooks and scammers to target consumers, and senior citizens often unwittingly open the door to being scammed.
According to the AARP, in 2022, three-quarters of consumers experienced or were targeted by at least one form of fraud. In 2021, Americans lost over $6.9 billion to fraudsters, including those that can be tied to the holidays, with requests from fake charities, holiday shopping, booking holiday travel, fraudulent communications about shipping problems, and more. Furthermore, scammers take advantage of the holiday season to zero in on seniors.
Here are the Top 6 most common holiday scams and more importantly, helpful solutions to protect yourself and your loved ones:
1. Fake Charities
Scammers take advantage of people’s generosity during the holiday season and create fake charities, GoFundMe campaigns and other charitable activities.
Warning Signs: Be cautious of hard-sell tactics or vague language. Charities should never threaten, and donors should always be able to see exactly where the money goes.
Solutions: Do your research before giving through Always check the URL and charity name before donating. The same applies to GoFundMe campaigns. Be sure to check your sources!
2. Gift Card Scams & Empty Gift Cards
Scammers love gift cards because they are almost impossible to trace. Many holiday scams involve buying and selling fraudulent gift cards. Scammers will often impersonate a bank or government agency and will try to trick consumers into giving up the numbers on the back of the card.
Warning Signs: Make sure gift cards have not been tampered with. Check the back and see if the PIN has been exposed. Always get a receipt. Whenever possible, purchase the gift card physically at the store. Apart from a Visa or Mastercard gift card, the purchase of a gift card should never ask you to pay for an “activation fee.”
Solutions: Use the gift card only at the store or website it was purchased from. If anyone charges “fees” or implies they “protect your money,” it is likely a scam.
3. Grandparent Scams – Fraudsters “Phishing” as Family Members
Scammers text, email and make phone calls posing as a grandchild in trouble and ask for money, usually through wire transfers or gift cards. According to the FBI, elder fraud costs victims $3-4 billion in losses each year.
Warning Signs: The posing family member asks this transaction to be a secret. The message sounds strange. When in doubt, trust your gut and call the family member directly.
Solutions: Educate yourself on common scams and how to spot them. Use a known phone number to contact the family member or friend claiming to be in trouble. Do not send money or share your credit or debit card details with anyone you do not know or trust. Be cautious and avoid acting immediately, regardless of the situation.
4. Fraudulent Emails or Texts from Trusted Companies
Phishing/fraudulent emails pose as companies or government agencies the public trusts. During the holiday season, scammers send phishing messages claiming to be from companies like Amazon or Apple that offer exclusive discounts or, worse, claim that your account has been hacked. Scammers will send messages offering “free gifts” in return for sensitive information.
Warning Signs: Be skeptical about unsolicited messages regarding special offers or prizes. Any unrequested email or text message should be treated with caution. Also, be wary if the message includes a link. Phishing scams try to direct users to a fake website or infect your device with malware. Other signs of phishing include strange spelling, grammatical errors, and formatting issues.
Solutions: Ignore messages and texts from people you do not know. If in doubt, contact the company directly and ask if the message is legitimate.
5. Missed Delivery Notification Scam Texts
It’s common to be waiting on packages and deliveries during the holiday season. One recent scam involves fraudsters sending fake delivery notification text messages, in hopes that the user will click on the link. These scam texts lead to a fake website designed to either steal personal information, ask for a credit card number, or ask to send money directly to the scammer. According to Reddit, fraudsters create fake websites that look like the UPS site to steal information.
Warning Signs: FedEx, UPS, and other delivery companies will not ask for a credit card or social security number to “find” the delivery. Take note if a link in the text takes the user to a site that is not on the official UPS, USPS, or FedEx domains — for example, an “IPS” fake logo that looks just like the “UPS” logo. If in doubt, go directly to UPS.com, FedEx.com and USPS.com websites. All other variations of these domains are likely to be scams.
Solutions: Track deliveries through the official shipper website using the tracking number provided only. Make sure to visit that website directly; do not use the link provided in a text or email.
6. Holiday Travel and Online Airfare Scams
With holiday travel back in full swing, many people are looking for cheap airline tickets for the holiday season. Scammers target travelers with schemes ranging from bogus flight-booking websites to fraudulent flight cancellation emails and sudden price increases.
Warning Signs: A website or online marketplace is offering airline tickets to popular destinations at deep discounts. Scammers tout huge deals while trying to get users to suspend suspicions. Or a scammer may contact the user directly to ask to pay extra for a flight or are told the flight has been canceled and more money is needed to rebook it.
Solutions: Always purchase airline tickets directly from the airline or through a reputable third-party seller that has customer service like Expedia.com, Travelocity.com, Kayak.com or Priceline.com. If you receive any messages about your trip, contact the airline directly to make sure the message is legitimate.
As always, it’s safe to work with a reputable travel agent to ensure travel availability and pricing from an expert in their field.
Lastly, as a general precaution for added protection against fraud, consider an identity theft protection service. See Consumer Voice.org for some suggestions.
As we revel in the joyous holiday season, it’s essential for seniors to remain vigilant against potential scams. Protecting yourself from scams is a crucial aspect of making the most of the season with friends and family. Even with the multitude of holiday festivities we hope you will enjoy at John Knox Village, or wherever you celebrate, stay alert and secure, to ensure a happy and scam-free holiday for all.
From the popular Halloween Happy Hour and Pet Costume Contest to the all-day Thanksgiving Feast, from Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations to the annual New Year’s Eve bash, residents never run out of options to enjoy a joyous holiday season at John Knox Village.
Keeping our residents on top of their “tech” game through classes and one-on-one assistance, JKV Technology Coordinator Jason Cook helps residents improve their tech-savviness, troubleshoot any technology questions, and make the most of mobile and technology-based devices. Having our own in-house Technology expert is just one of the many “extras “John Knox Village offers that sets it apart.
If you want to learn more about what JKV has to offer, contact us for a no-pressure conversation or a tour.