Business, Finance & Economics

Scams abound targeting holiday shoppers' personal information

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At Christmas time, the quest for gifts can lead you to fall into scams. (Photo by Flickr user The Lamb Family, cc-by-sa.)

Scams are prevalent this holiday season.

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From hoax discounts to infected QR codes to electronic pick-pockets and even scam gift cards, this holidays shopping season is filled with pitfalls for shoppers who don't remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Shopper Mary Ferring told CNN that she bought what she thought was high quality cookware off a website that promised holiday gift deals, but what came in the mail were cheap metal pans with no return address and no way to get her money back.

"I couldn't believe the deal. It looked like it was worth $400 or $500 and the cost was $60," she said on CNN.

Audri Lanford, founder of Scambusters.org, said for scam websites, this is normal operating procedure.

"These kinds of discount scams are probably one of the two biggest kinds of scams out there this holiday season," she said.

Lanford said there are tell-tale signs to look for to try and avoid scams. For starters, if you're entering payment information, make sure you're on a secure website, denoted by an https, rather than an http, in the website URL. She also recommends checking to make sure that a website has return information listed plainly on its website.

"The biggest of these scams this year is the discount tablet, iPads in particular," she said.

Almost all of the $99 iPads that are advertised are scams, she said, and you won't receive anything for your money.

With electronic pick-pocketing, many credit cards that now include RFID chips, a growing subset, thieves can skim the personal data off your credit card, including the number, expiration date and your name, from as far as 30 feet away, by accessing the RFID.

"They do need special equipment, and this is one that sounds worse than it is," she said.

The best way to combat this is to buy a metal sleeve to put around you credit cards, keeping the cards from being read without your consent.

With infected QR codes, Android smart phones download apps and other information that lead your phone to ring up unauthorized charges. Lanford suggests only downloading apps from trusted sources and having anti-virus and security software on your phone.

The last holiday problem is with gift cards, a popular gift. Con artists will go into stores and collect the number on the gift card, and then wait for someone to purchase and activate the card. Once that's done, before the gift card can be given, they'll deplete the funds, leaving the recipient with nothing but a hunk of plastic.

"They'll empty the cards because they know the number," she said. "We recommend that you should never buy gift cards that the public can get to."

And one last scam that can be particularly devastating is around holiday employment. In this scam, con artists either try to get you to pay for an interview, or try to get your personal information. Lanford suggests your be especially careful whenever applying for a job, especially around the holiday times.

"You should never pay to get a job," she said.