Beware of These Popular 2016 Holiday Season Scams


Last updated 10/27/2016 at 6:52pm | View PDF

Illustration by April Heath Pastis

"We have our 'oldies but goodies' but they become new again during the holiday season," said Nicole Burnham, victim advocate with the Tulare County District Attorney's Office, about the scams and frauds seniors and others can expect during the holidays.

"For example, charity fraud exists every day year round but during the holiday season, when people are feeling more generous, there is an upswing," she said. "I want to remind people it is never safe to give a donation over the phone. In this day and age, we cannot be sure that the person is actually affiliated with the charity."

The caller ID is no help either, according to Burnham. "The caller can present any number they want," she said. "So people who want to donate to a charity really need to do their homework before giving out their credit card information to give a donation.

"Charities can sound like something we're familiar with," she continued. "'Save the Children' and 'Save Our Children' are not the same thing. Everyone is encouraged to check the name of the charity with the Better Business Bureau or These organizations can also tell you if it's a legitimate charity and how much of your dollar is going to the fund – is it 9¢ or is it 90¢?"

Those who shop for gifts online must also be careful this holiday season.

"It's expected that package theft is going to be high again this year," said Burnham. "People can ask, if the package is delivered by UPS, that the package is available at the UPS store.

"There are also malicious emails that state there is a problem with your package delivery," she said. "These emails may ask you to click on a link and these links may contain malware or may ask you for personal information that's not necessary when the package is in transit. Consumers are encouraged to go directly to the purchase website and to not respond to the emails. It's a classic holiday scam."

And then there is the gift card scam.

"It's unfortunate because gift cards are convenient for the person you don't know what to buy for," said Burnham. "Someone will record the numbers of as-yet-unpurchased cards and then patiently wait for the card to become active and then utilize its funds before the legitimate owner can."

She suggests looking at the back of a gift card to make sure the scratch-off is still intact, or to ask for a gift card that is being kept behind the counter instead of on the rack.

Also, be careful of fraudulent websites that offer great deals on popular items.

"Consumers are encouraged to research companies, especially if the purchase is from a website," said Burnham, who added that gift buyers should also take a close look at the website itself. "Is there clear, identifying information about the company and a clear link to the terms of use? A 'contact us' tab should have an actual address.

"Saving a few dollars from purchasing from one of these websites could put your credit card information at risk," she added. "And consumers are always safer using credit cards versus debit cards for online shopping."

Burnham also urged people to be cautious when receiving an ecard, even if it appears to be from a friend or loved one.

"There is some concern that there are ecards embedded with some malware, or the cards are not even from your associate," she said. "The recommendation is that you don't open any cards unless you have verification from your loved one that they sent it to you."

For more information, to report fraud or to receive a free copy of Taking Charge: What to Do if Your Identity is Stolen, call the Tulare County District Attorney's Victim/Witness Assistance Division at (559) 735-1482.


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