The holidays: A time for mistletoe and … fraud?

It’s not surprising that identity thieves and con artists love the holidays. More shoppers, more deals and more buying motivation makes the season rife with opportunities to steal. But you don’t have to let the holiday spirit cloud your shopping safety judgment.

Here are a few tips to avoid fraud, whether you’re shopping online or at your local mall:

  • Shop on websites you trust. During the holidays, your e-mail inbox may be filled with unsolicited messages urging you to “click here.” Don’t. Scammers set up websites that mimic legitimate stores. They want your personal information so they can steal from you. Stick to reputable stores and sites and you’ll be better off.
  • Background-check your choice charities. Many legitimate church groups and nonprofit organizations engage in fundraising activities during the holidays. If you’re confident that the group is above-board, go ahead and donate. But if something seems off – hold on to your money.
  • Be attentive — especially at the mall. Large shopping centers offer scammers ample opportunities to steal. Don’t be fooled by someone selling a typically expensive product for way less money than it’s worth. Make sure you keep track of your purse, wallet and shopping bags. And be aware of your surroundings when you leave the mall. If you don’t feel completely safe walking alone through a dark parking lot, ask a security guard to escort you.
  • Purchase gift cards wisely. These little pieces of plastic can be great stocking stuffers, but they’re also prime targets for crooks. Scammers have been known to copy numbers from gift cards hanging in store displays. They then call a toll-free number to learn when the card is activated and use the card number to make purchases. One way to avoid this is to buy from retailers who keep gift cards behind the checkout register.