The holiday season brings with it warmth, cheer, and shopping.
But industry insiders and state officials are warning shoppers to be wary of holiday scams, as well.
State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli urged New Yorkers to be mindful of fees, expiration dates, or other rules or restrictions when purchasing gift cards, and also to use old gift cards they find.
Some companies might charge a service fee for purchasing the card, or a fee to call and check the remaining balance, or even a fee for not using the card.
Under the Federal Credit Card Act of 2009, people can only be charged inactivity fees on many types of retail cards sold after August 22, 2010 if the card has not been used within 12 months of purchase.
Unused gift card values issued by New York corporations must be turned over to the Comptroller’s office as abandoned property if they’re not used within five years. DiNapoli’s office is currently holding more than $12 billion in unclaimed funds.
Online shopping has opened the door to a wide array of opportunities for scam artists.
Some people — an estimated 84,000 so far — have already received phony texts from different numbers offering free $1000 Best Buy gift cards and directing them to sites with addresses like BestBuyWin.net or BestBuyContest.net.
Scam watchdog company Scambook warns not to fall for this “SMiShing”, where scammers use mass texting try to trick people into giving up their personal and financial information.
Scambook says the damages associated with SMS fees and unwanted subscription costs could exceed $40,000, and anticipates an additional $100,000 cell phone users will have received these texts by mid-November.
The websites can be convincing, as they often appropriate the Best Buy logo and colors, says Scambook’s Director of Marketing, Kase Chong.
These sites have no affiliation with Best Buy, however.
“To redeem their ‘free prize,’ a consumer would have to sign up for thirteen separate special offers and recruit three friends to do the same, handing over personal information to these spammers in the process,” Chong warns.
He advises not to respond or complete any of these “special offers”, and to contact your cell service provider and report the SMiShing on Scambook’s website.
The 12 Scams of Christmas
Digital security company McAfee warns shopper of the worst and most common holiday scams.
1. Be careful clicking Facebook and Twitter “Deal” links: people’s accounts are often hacked, and messages from friends boasting of 90% discounts might not actually be from those friends
2. Use caution downloading mobile apps: they could be designed to steal information or send out pricey texts without your knowledge.
3. Look out for travel scams when scouting for low prices for trips home for the holidays: scammers often use too-good-to-be-true offers to get your financial info.
4. Ignore spam e-mails advertising the “perfect gift”: your mother-in-law probably is not looking for a subscription to a shady pharmaceutical service.
5. There will be phony contests and sweepstakes to win iPhone 5s or iPad minis all over the place; don’t fall for them! They’re used to get you to reveal personal information or download harmful programs onto your computer.
6. Possibly the creepiest threat: beware of a Skype message scam that can hold your files for ransom.
7. Fake gift cards — make sure your purchase is the real deal, so your loved ones don’t end up with empty presents!
8. Be on alert for holiday “SMiShing”, or phishing via text, where scammers use mass texts to lure you into revealing information by pretending to be a legitimate company or organization.
9. Stay away from phony e-commerce sites that lure you into inputting credit card and other information, usually beyond what’s normally expected.
10. Some sleazy scammers even set up fake charities — do your research before your donate.
11. Don’t open e-cards from sources you don’t know: they could contain spyware or viruses.
12. Seeking good deals through the classifieds? Don’t fall for anyone asking for too much personal information or to wire funds via Western Union.