COLUMBUS — A new survey from the AARP Fraud Watch Network found that 70 percent of consumers failed a quiz about how to stay safe from common holiday scams, and many are regularly engaging in risky behaviors which could leave them at risk of being victimized by con artists.
A report, “Beware the Grinch: Consumers At Risk of Being Scammed During the Holidays,” details AARP’s polling of consumers regarding the most common holiday scams, including those related to charitable giving, gift cards, package deliveries, and use of public Wi-Fi. The survey included seven questions about scams, with 70 percent of the survey participants answering four or fewer of the questions correctly.
“Our survey makes it clear that we need to do more to protect ourselves and our families from the fraudsters who are zeroing in on our wallets and bank accounts,” said Tamara James, interim state director for AARP Ohio. “We need to become more aware of newly emerging and popular scams, and to share that information to help keep friends and family safe this holiday season.”
Prompted by the survey results, the Fraud Watch Network has launched an education campaign, including a new web page, designed to educate the public about the top five holiday scams:
Charitable giving? Ask and check
Last year, Americans gave $358 billion 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 70 percent of the people 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 60 percent made donations without verifying that the charity groups were legally authorized to raise money in their state.
About a third of consumers don’t know (15 percent) or aren’t sure (18 percent) that, in most states, professional fundraisers must be registered with the government and report how much they raise and how much goes to the charitable purpose. Less than one in 10 (eight percent) could correctly name the government agency they should contact to verify the legitimacy of the charity or fundraiser (the Office of the State Secretary).
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.
Fifty-eight percent of respondents in the FWN survey report they will buy gift cards from a rack at a big box store, pharmacy or grocery store this holiday season. Only half (54 percent) know that gift cards purchased from a gift card rack at a grocery store are notsafer from hackers or thieves than gift cards purchased online.
Consider swiping that other card
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.
Almost two-thirds of the holiday shoppers surveyed (64 percent) say they will buy holiday gifts this year using a debit card.
Public WiFi: Surf safely, or it could empty your account
Many holiday shoppers incorrectly believe that it is safe to access sensitive information via free WiFi networks as long as websites are secured by “https.” In fact, online security experts warn that consumers should never use public WiFi to access bank accounts or to buy products online.
The survey indicates that 52 percent of internet users in this survey say they will use free public WiFi. Many of them, while using public Wi-Fi, will make purchases (42 percent), access their bank accounts (28 percent), and check their credit card accounts (16 percent).
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 survey respondents (79 percent) say they ship packages to friends without requiring a signature at least some of the time. Seventy-three percent say they receive home deliveries without having to provide a signature “some” or “all of the time.”
The FWN survey also asked participants if they have experienced a recent stressful life event — which fraud experts say can make it more difficult to spot and resist holiday scams. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of consumers have experienced at least one life stress event in the past six months, and almost four-in-ten (39 percent) have experienced two or more.
For information and detailed tips on how to avoid all manner of holiday scams, including those detailed above, visit AARP’s holiday fraud web page. Consumers may also visit the Fraud Watch Network to receive timely fraud alerts for their local area.