PHOENIX — Consumer fraud schemes escalate each year during the holidays, and a new research report, “Seasons Cheatings,” from the AARP Fraud Watch Network finds that a significant number of consumers are at risk of becoming victimized by common seasonal scams.

Nearly 20% of those surveyed failed a simple quiz designed to test their ability to recognize the red flags of holiday scams.

“This time of year, many of us are busy with holiday preparations and social activities. Scammers hope they can take advantage of these seasonal distractions to convince us to do their nefarious bidding,” said Kathy Stokes, director, fraud prevention programs, AARP. “We’re trying to draw attention to the red flags of seasonal scams, because if you can spot a scam, you can stop a scam.”

An AARP Fraud Watch Network campaign is using advertising, social media postings, website content, webinars, tele-town halls and email alerts to warn consumers about some of the most prevalent holiday scams:

Gift card scams

The popularity of gift cards – the AARP survey found that 70% of people plan to give gift cards as holiday presents – make them attractive targets for scammers. The criminals visit stores with gift card racks and surreptitiously record the PIN numbers from the backs of the cards. Once the cards are purchased and activated, the scammer drains the funds. Twenty percent of those surveyed reported that they have given or received a gift card whose balance had already been depleted.

AARP recommends carefully examining a gift card for signs of tampering, prior to making the purchase. Even safer options are: buying the cards from stores that keep the rack behind their counter, or via online purchase directly from the retailer.

Package delivery scams

AARP’s survey indicates that half of us who ship holiday packages don’t request a signature on delivery. When packages are left at front doors, it is a golden (and easy) opportunity for “porch pirates” to grab them.

If requesting a delivery signature is not an option, AARP advises that you explore options offered by shipping companies that allow recipients to pick up their packages from a secure location. Or, direct the delivery company to place packages somewhere that makes them harder to see from the street.

Also be aware of email – or “phishing” – scams related to package deliveries. An email purporting to be from a shipping company about a pending delivery may actually be a scammer’s attempt to obtain sensitive payment information or to install malicious software on your device. One red flag is a generic “Dear Customer” salutation. Also, use your mouse to hover over the link you are instructed to click on to address the issue. If the web address does not look like it’s taking you to the actual company’s website, it’s a scam.

Charitable donation scams

During the holiday season, many of America’s outstanding charities solicit donations to support their important work. Unfortunately, scammers will try to get in on the action to line their own pockets. One-third of those AARP surveyed said they have received a request for a donation from a group that was likely fraudulent.

Before making a donation, experts recommend using charity-rating sites such as Give.org or CharityNavigator.org to make sure the solicitation is from a legitimate organization. You can also check on what percentage of collected donations actually support the charitable purpose.

AARP’s survey found that only 30% of U.S. adults conduct research on a charity before giving money. For more findings from the AARP survey, see the research report, “Seasons Cheatings: Beware of Holiday Scams,” at www.aarp.org/SeasonsCheatings.

The AARP Fraud Watch Network launched in 2013 as a free resource for people of all ages. Consumers may sign up for “Watchdog Alert” emails that deliver information about scams, or call a free helpline at 877-908-3360 to report scams or get help from trained volunteers in the event someone falls victim to scammers’ tactics.

The Fraud Watch Network website provides information about fraud and scams, prevention tips from experts, an interactive scam-tracking map and access to AARP’s hit podcast series, The Perfect Scam.

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