Holiday Scams

There are a few holiday scams to be aware of.

According to the AARP, there is a scam going around with holiday gift cards. According to AARP Alabama’s Jamie Harding, the number on the back of holiday gift cards bought in a store could have already been scanned or copied by a scammer just waiting for the card to be activated.

As soon as it is activated, the money could be gone before you even spend it. Harding recommends not buying gift cards off the rack during the holidays.  Instead, you can order cards from the internet.

“Fraud is something that is a multi-billion dollar problem in America. Unfortunately in many cases, older adults are the target, even more so than younger folks,” Harding said.

Also, be wary of anyone who asks you to pay for holiday purchases using prepaid debit cards, gift cards, wire transfers, third parties, etc., because these types of payments cannot be traced and cannot be undone. recommends that you use a credit card on a secure website; look for “https” in the address (the extra “s” is for “secure”) and the lock symbol.

Giving to charity

During the holiday season, you may get calls from charities looking for donations. However, before you donate, there are some safety measures to consider.

First, Harding encourages everybody to look up a charity on Charity Navigator prior to donating. Second, if a charity contacts you, but you have doubts about where or how they are asking you to send the money, contact them yourself through a known website or known phone number.

Scammers can create fake charities that are little more than fundraisers, and real charities may not be donating as much to a cause as you would like.

A study by Wallet Hub recommends verifying that a charity is registered with the Secretary of State and asking how much money is actually being put towards a charitable purpose.

The study said some telemarketing “charities” keep 85 to 90 percent of all donations. states that you should check out charities at before donating.

Cyber security

Whether shopping or making a donation, Harding recommends using private wireless Internet for any online transaction.

Of those who said they use free public Wi-Fi, 43 percent use it to make online purchase, 28 percent check bank accounts, and 20 percent check credit card accounts.

Harding said public internet should never be used for anything involving your bank or credit card accounts due to the lack of security.

Phone scams

An IRS and power company scam preys on citizens using fear tactics, and the scams are especially prevalent during the holidays. A phone operator will call, tell the listener a bill hasn’t been paid, and give them a time limit within which to pay them, usually by wire transfer. In fact, Harding said the IRS scam is one of the most popular scams in Alabama.

“It’s going around the state really hard right now,” Harding said. “People get phone calls from somebody claiming to be from the IRS demanding payment immediately, and usually they demand payment in the form of a wire transfer or prepaid debit card. They can be very threatening.”

In Alabama, an electric company scam is the same ruse, but with a “representative” from the power company threatening to shut off the listener’s power if they don’t pay within a certain time period.

Hamburger King was targeted by the latter scam earlier this year. If you receive a call from a company claiming you owe them money, contacting them through a known phone number is the best way to verify.

Harding said the IRS will never call about a debt.

“A lot of people, if you get a call from the IRS, it freaks them out. (But) the IRS never calls you,” Harding said. “Even if you think you owe back taxes, they’re going to send you a letter in the mail and they’re not going to demand payment by wire transfer or prepaid debit card.”


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