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You Better Watch Out: 5 Credit Card-Related Holiday Scams

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You better watch out / you better not cry / better not pout / I’m telling you why…

Santa Claus is coming to town – and as you’re filling Santa’s sleigh, you’ll likely be using your Kirtland CU VISA® credit card. After all, you can dispute suspicious charges and stay safe from fraudsters with that, right?

Yes – but with all the transactions you’ll be making, it’s that much easier to miss out on one fraudulent transaction on your statement. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), Americans lost $173 million to credit card fraud and more than $337 million to nonpayment and nondelivery scams in 2021 – so if you don’t want to end up crying and pouting about fraudsters ruining your holidays, you’d better watch out for them.

We’ve made a list of credit card-related scams to keep an eye out for this holiday season – check it twice, and you can see who’s naughty or nice, for goodness sake.

Amazon Scams

Online shopping is becoming an essential part of our holiday shopping plans, and Amazon is the most popular e-commerce site in the U.S. – but as your inbox grows with order confirmations and delivery updates, you should be wary about messages that claim to be from Amazon. Most are valid, but fraudsters will try to snare victims with phishing emails, text messages, and phone calls that look or sound like Amazon communications but are really tricks to try to get your credit card information.

If you aren’t sure that an email or text message is legitimate, don’t click on any links in it. To be completely secure, log in to your Amazon account and go to the Message Center (available under your account) – this will have a complete list of all communications from Amazon.

If you are contacted by phone, don’t provide your credit card information – Amazon won’t ask for this over the phone. Finally, never input your payment information for Amazon in any website that isn’t Amazon.com.

Romance Scams

The holidays often contribute to feelings of loneliness for some people, which makes romance fraud that much more effective. Also known as “catfishing”, romance scams involve fraudsters making a fake profile on a dating site or social media for the purpose of gaining others’ confidence before making a plea for financial assistance (whether to cover expenses or for an investment).

How can you protect yourself against being heartbroken romantically and financially? If someone you’ve met and started a relationship with asks for money, research their name and their profile picture. You can do a reverse image search with Google by saving their profile picture and clicking on the camera icon in Google’s search bar – often fraudulent profiles will have images from stock photography sites, or from other people’s social media profiles.

Investigate any detail of their story which raises suspicions – don’t automatically assume they are telling you the truth. Additionally, do not give anyone payment details or personal information that could be used to open credit cards if you haven’t met them face-to-face.

Gift Card Scams

There are multiple variations on gift card scams – scammers love gift cards because they are almost impossible to trace, and equally difficult to recover once purchased. If anyone approaches you asking for gift cards as payment for a service, remember that no legitimate business or government agency asks for gift cards as payment.

Some scammers have even taken the step to take gift cards off the rack at stores and recorded PIN codes before applying a new scratch-off coating, waiting for the card to be activated before cleaning it out.

If you are looking to give gift cards, carefully examine them to make sure they haven’t been tampered with at any point. If you want to avoid the possibility of tampering, give your recipient an electronic gift card from a reputable website. If you do buy gift cards, keep the receipts and record the gift card numbers and PINs so you’ll have them if you need to file a report with the gift card company or Federal Trade Commission.

Charity Scams

Charitable donations are more common during the holiday season, and scammers aren’t above trying to take advantage of our increased generosity. They will pretend to solicit donations on behalf of a charitable organization by way of email, text message, or phone call – sometimes even creating fake websites, GoFundMe campaigns, or other means of separating you from your donations.

If you want to be absolutely sure that you’re giving to a legitimate charity, research them through a site like Charity Navigator, BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance, or Charity Watch to confirm their validity, and make your donations directly through the charity in question – don’t use links in emails or succumb to hard-sell tactics or vague explanations of where your money is going.

Finally, if you want to make a donation, use a credit card if possible – payments made with a credit card have additional protections against fraud compared to payments made with cash, cryptocurrency or wire transfer. If the charity is specifically asking for payment with these methods, it could be a scammer – walk away.

Lottery Scams

It’s everyone’s fantasy – hitting the jackpot and having a windfall of cash during the holidays. If someone calls claiming that your fantasy is now reality, and you’ve won a physical or monetary prize – contingent on you making a small processing payment or providing payment information for validation and transfer – it’s probably too good to be true. Be careful.

Ask for the name of the company that is claiming you’ve won a sweepstakes, and contact them yourself to confirm if you’ve won. Look up the company’s contact information yourself; don’t trust the person saying you’ve won to provide a phone number which may not be legitimate.

A real sweepstakes or lottery doesn’t require payment to receive a prize. If you are asked for this, it’s a scam.

How can you avoid online scams?

  • Look for signs that the site you’re using is secure – a padlock in the address bar is a good indication – as well as proper spelling, inconsistent formatting, bad design, and lack of proper contact information.
  • Research retailers before shopping. Google and the Better Business Bureau are your friends – run searches for the retailer, and look for complaints about scams or unfulfilled orders.
  • Don’t open attachments or click on links if you don’t know the sender of an email or text message you don’t expect to receive. Never provide sensitive personal information through email.
  • Secure your online accounts with strong, unique passwords and multi-factor authentication – hackers will have a harder time getting into your accounts if you do this.

How can you recover from a scam?

If you do fall victim to scammers, take action to minimize the damage done and work towards recovering your identity.

  • Freeze your credit file with the three major credit bureaus – TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. This will help to prevent scammers from opening new credit lines in your name.
  • If you think your credit card has been compromised, place a lock on the card so it can’t be used until you unlock it. You can deactivate and reactivate your card yourself in Online Banking or Mobile Banking by going to Card Management – or you can call our Member Contact Center at 1.800.880.5328 if you need further assistance.
  • File an Identity Theft Report with the Federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov or by calling 877.438.4338, and file a police report with your local police or sheriff’s department. Provide as much information about the scammer as you can.
  • Change your usernames and passwords for any accounts that may be compromised.
  • Check your credit report and bank statements regularly – if you find signs of fraudulent activity, provide your copy of the Identity Theft Report you filed with the FTC and be persistent about removing fraudulent charges.

Sources:

5 Credit Card Scams to Watch Out For This Holiday Season (https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/credit-cards/5-credit-card-scams-to-watch-out-for-this-holiday-season)

Holiday Scams: The Unwelcome Gifts That Keep On Taking (https://www.forbes.com/advisor/personal-finance/common-holiday-scams/ )

Credit Card Scams to Know in 2023 (and How to Avoid Them) (https://time.com/personal-finance/article/credit-card-scams-to-know/)

2023 Holiday Scams: How to Stay Safe While Shopping, Traveling, and Giving (https://www.aura.com/learn/holiday-scams)

How to Avoid the Worst Christmas Scams of 2023 (https://www.aura.com/learn/christmas-scams)

Victim of Credit Card Fraud? 6 Actions to Take Now (https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/credit-cards/actions-credit-identity-fraud)

Don't Be a Victim!

You need to know about credit union impersonation scams so you can avoid becoming a victim of these nefarious tactics.

Online and Mobile Banking will be unavailable on Thursday, May 9 from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Friday, May 10.