Tips for avoiding holiday scams

Published 8:34 am Friday, November 27, 2015

Despite all the information available about scams and how to avoid them, a recent survey found most Michigan consumers are still engaging in behaviors that could leave them at risk of being victimized by con artists, especially around the holidays.

A report, “Beware the Grinch: Consumers at Risk of Being Scammed During the Holidays,” details AARP’s polling of Michigan residents regarding the most common holiday scams.

The survey included seven questions about scams, with 66 percent of the survey participants answering four or fewer of the questions correctly.

These results should serve as an important reminder that we could all use more education about emerging and popular scams and that we need to do our part to spread awareness about scams with family and friends.

Fortunately, the Fraud Watch Network (FWN) has launched an education campaign, including a new web page, designed to educate the public about the top five holiday scams.

Below are a few tips from the FWN that can help save you a holiday headache this shopping season:


Check your charity

Last year, Americans gave $358 billion dollars to charity according to the National Philanthropic Trust. Government officials who regulate charities and fundraisers say that while most charities are legitimate, there are many fundraisers, especially telemarketers, who keep 85-90 percent of the money they raise.

AARP’s survey found that 67 percent of Michiganders who donated to a charity or fundraiser in the past 12 months did so without asking any questions about how that donation would be spent, and 65 percent made donations without verifying that the charity groups were legally authorized to raise money in their state.


Gift cards: Skip the rack

Fraud experts report that thieves sometimes hit store gift card racks, secretly write down or electronically scan the numbers off the cards, then check online or call the toll-free number to see if someone has bought the cards and activated them. As soon as a card is active, the scammers drain the funds. By the time you try to use the same card, the money is long gone.


Consider using credit cards

Consumer protection experts recommend the use of credit cards rather than debit cards for most purchases, to better protect consumers from fraud and theft. With credit cards, you are liable for only up to $50 of fraudulent use. But in the case of a lost or stolen debit card, financial losses to the consumer can be much more significant.


Surf carefully on public Wi-Fi

Many holiday shoppers incorrectly believe that it is safe to access sensitive information via free Wi-Fi networks as long as websites are secured by “https.” In fact, online security experts warn that consumers should never use public Wi-Fi to access bank accounts or to buy products online.


Require a Package Delivery Sign Off

More than 40 percent of holiday shoppers are unaware that package delivery companies are not responsible for stolen packages that are left at your front door without requiring a delivery signature. A large majority of Michigan respondents (82 percent) say they ship packages to friends without requiring a signature at least some of the time. Seventy-eight percent say they receive home deliveries without having to provide a signature “some” or “all of the time.”


Those interested in reading the full report about the AARP survey can do so at

We encourage everyone to follow these tips and help keep holiday scammers from playing the Grinch this holiday season.


Opinions expressed are those of the editorial board consisting of Publisher Michael Caldwell and editors Ambrosia Neldon, Craig Haupert, Ted Yoakum and Scott Novak.