Bamboozled: Be Merry: Don’t fall for scams that can damage the holiday spirt

??????????????????It’s Thanksgiving, and that means you’re probably going to eat a lot. Perhaps it’s fuel for shopping tomorrow — Black Friday.

But Black Friday and the entire holiday shopping season are fuel for scammers, who try to take advantage of busy consumers.

Unfortunately, it seems that many consumers are also ill informed about popular cons.

AARP recently surveyed consumers in Washington state, and two-thirds of participants failed a quiz about holiday scams. The survey found many engage in behaviors that put them at risk of becoming a victim.

We’re willing to bet that New Jersey consumers are also at risk this holiday season.

Before you shop on Black Friday, learn more about these holiday scams.
The truth about Black Friday: America is not as crazy as you think
NJ.com commentator Brian Donohue hits the streets and checks the data to see if Black Friday is really the massive phenomenon it is widely perceived to be – or whether most people will be chilling out at home in their snuggles like him. (Video by Brian Donohue | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
The scam? Theft of info over Wi-Fi

When you shop, you’re probably going to be in an area that offers free public Wi-Fi. The AARP survey found that 44 santapercent of shoppers expect to use public Wi-Fi to make an online purchase, while a quarter say they will use public Wi-Fi to check their bank accounts.

Protect yourself:

Don’t use public Wi-Fi for any financial transaction. Not ever. Crooks may tap into public connections and steal your account numbers, passwords and more. If you need to contact your bank or credit card when you’re not home, use the 800 number on the back of your card. And rather than make a purchase using a wireless device when you’re out, just wait until you return home or to another place that has a protected network.

The scam? Package delivery heists

If you shop online or via catalogs, purchases are usually shipped to your home. If you’re not there to meet the delivery person, there’s nothing to stop a passer-by from snatching your brown box of holiday cheer.

Protect yourself:

The holiday season is a big one for home deliveries of all kinds of goods, and thieves know it. But it seems not enough consumers do. Nearly half of those surveyed by AARP didn’t know package delivery companies are not responsible for packages that are stolen from your doorstep. To avoid that kind of mess, arrange for packages to be delivered to your office if no one is home during the day, or ask a trusted neighbor to take delivery on your behalf. You can also see about requiring a signature upon delivery so no packages are left unattended.

The scam? Lousy or fake charities

It’s the season of giving, but many generous consumers don’t do any research about the charities to whom they give. The AARP survey found 64 percent of those who gave didn’t ask how much of their donations actually went to those in need rather than to administrative costs for the charity. Sixty percent never verified that the charity was properly authorized with the state, and only 4 percent could name the state agency where they could verify a charity’s status. And half of consumers didn’t know that a charity can keep most of the money it raises as long as it doesn’t lie about how much it keeps.

Protect yourself:

Charities need money all year round, not just during the holidays. Rather than wait until you’re asked for funds in December, create a giving plan at the beginning of the year. You can decide how much you want to give, and to whom, and you’ll have plenty of time to research and make sure your charity uses most of its funds for actual charitable uses. Before you give to any charity, check it out. In New Jersey, you can contact the Division of Consumer Affairs at (973) 504-6215. You can also check CharityNavigator.org.

The scam? Gift card fraud

As a shopper, it’s convenient to snap up gift cards from those gift card racks you see at grocery stores, pharmacies and box stores. It’s also convenient for scammers. The bad guys may visit those gift card racks and secretly write down or scan the numbers on the cards, AARP said. Then they check with the gift card provider to see if a card has been activated, and when it is, the scammers take the money from the cards.

Protect yourself:

Instead of purchasing gift cards from a rack, buy them from the source. You can make gift card purchases online and have the gift cards shipped to you so you know the cards haven’t been vulnerable to crafty hucksters. Or, only purchase gift cards that are behind a counter and protected by a cashier.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.

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