For people across North Carolina, we are in the season of giving. But for others, it’s the season of stealing.
Criminals use the holidays to take advantage of people’s goodwill to take their money and personal information. They target vulnerable people and use common holiday activities and stressors as a ploy to trick them. As you enjoy the holidays with friends and family, watch out for common signs of scams to help you and your loved ones steer clear of criminals.
Scammers know that online shopping spikes during the holidays. They set up fake websites with bogus products to take advantage of rushed, last-minute shoppers. They sell items that never show up or use their website as a ruse to steal your personal information. Never click on popup ads and instead go directly to the real website. Double-check the URL by looking for a lock icon and by making sure it starts with "https:".
When you shop online, be careful how you pay. Be sure to pay by credit card and keep receipts in case there's an issue and you need to be refunded. Credit cards offer some protection if something goes wrong with your order. Never trust someone who asks you to pay them with pre-paid gift cards, via wire transfer or with cryptocurrency. Online markets that won’t accept a credit card are probably a scam.
After you order, watch out for delivery scams. Know that FedEx, UPS, Amazon and other shipping companies will not ask you for personal information over email. Be skeptical of texts or emails telling you there was a problem with your order and instructing you to click a sketchy-looking link. If you think there might be an issue with an order, go to the company’s website directly to check, instead of responding to phishing messages.
Leaving delivered packages outside makes you a target for porch poachers. Take steps to ensure your package is safe, like tracking it and bringing it inside soon after it’s delivered. If you’re traveling for the holidays, consider having your mail held for you at the post office until you return.
People increase their charitable donations during the holidays, so criminals create charity scams to take advantage of people’s generosity. Give to charities you know to avoid these scams. Donating directly to the organization on their website helps you steer clear of fake crowdfunding and social media campaigns, illegitimate websites and sham organizations. Check with my office or the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance if you’re unsure of an organization’s authenticity.
The “most wonderful time of the year” brings out the best in people, which is exactly why scammers come out of the woodwork. 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 https://ncdoj.gov/file-a-complaint/ or by phone at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM. I hope you have a happy and safe holiday season with your friends and family.
Josh Stein serves as North Carolina attorney general.