While the holiday season is exciting for most because it brings families together and usually involves vacation, it’s also a great time to be a scammer. According to the National Consumers League, at least.
Thousands of people become a victim of holiday scams every year according to the FBI, and scammers are constantly on the lookout for ways to steal your money and personal information. Ranging from QR codes to store-bought gift cards, it’s strongly advised that those making purchases be extra careful this holiday season.
Desmond Ramey was one victim of a scam earlier in December when he attempted to purchase a gift card. The gift card he purchased at a store in Bakersfield, California returned an error messaged when he tried using it. When he asked the store manager to look at it, she knew right away what had happened. “She pulls off the barcode and underneath is the original barcode, and she goes, well you have been hit by a scam.”
John Breyault of the National Consumers League says, “The fraudsters seem to be one step ahead of the security measures put in place to stop them.”
A scammer will typically place their own barcodes over a real gift card barcode. When the card is activated at a retailer, the money is added to the scammer’s card instead of yours. What’s worse is that this method of scamming people out of their money has been around for a long time.
“Just make sure that you feel the back of the card to feel it’s a flat surface,” advised Ramey.
The FBI says that the two most common types of scams during the holidays revolve around people buying and selling things online. “Either you paid for a service or item and did not receive it, or you sold something and didn’t receive payment in exchange,” said Donna Gregory, the Unit Chief of the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. These two types of online scams cost people $265 million dollars in 2020.
QR codes are presenting another method for scammers to steal from people, using them to bring people to malicious sites. “Scammers will maybe put a face QR code on a menu or on a sticker attached to the wall or a light post in a high trafficked area,” said Breyault. These codes often lead to a malware site or other pages that seek to steal your information.
Take the extra second this holiday season to verify that the site you’re visiting is legitimate. Double-check the back of the gift card you’re buying to ensure the sticker isn’t raised. And always be cautious when exchanging your information for goods – you can never be too safe.