COLUMBIA, S.C. – It’s the most wonderful time of the year and scammers are putting on their Grinch outfits to steal more than your holiday cheer. Fraudsters are taking advantage of worldwide supply chain issues and are “setting up shop” claiming to sell whatever is the most popular and difficult-to-find item for the holidays. While it’s impossible to know every scam out there, the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs (SCDCA) wants consumers to know some common red flags of holiday scams and shopping tips to keep you safe this season.
Red flags of a holiday scam:
- Asks you to pay in uncommon payments like prepaid debit cards, gift cards, wire/bank transfer, payment app or cryptocurrency. Legitimate businesses will never force you to pay a certain way and will accept more common, safe forms of payment like credit cards. All the uncommon forms of payment listed above are used like cash; once in the hands of a criminal, the money is gone and nearly impossible to trace.
- Asks you to verify personal information. Scammers love cash but your private information is just as valuable. Whether it’s an email, over the phone or text message, never give any private information to a cold-caller. This approach is common with fake shipping notifications, delivery and tech scams.
- Asks for donations to a charity. You may be feeling more generous around the holidays and scammers create fake charities to take your hard-earned money. Before donating, go to the SC Secretary of State’s website to see if the charity is registered or call 1 (888) CHARITI (242-7484).
Tips for safe shopping online:
- If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Skeptical of a crazy good deal or an item that is sold out everywhere but this one sketchy-looking website? Trust your gut. Be wary of deeply discounted prices, especially on third-party sites like eBay, Amazon and Facebook Marketplace. Always do research by looking at reviews and checking other retailers for price comparisons.
- Pick your payment type wisely. If you can pay with a credit card when shopping online. It offers extra fraud protection, limiting what you owe if someone steals your information and allowing you to dispute certain charges, including if you don’t receive your order. Also, unlike a debit card, a credit card isn’t a direct line into your checking account. Some credit card companies even offer “virtual” credit card numbers, giving you a temporary card number for your purchase instead of entering in your permanent number.
- Review your financial statements and keep your receipts. Security breaches often happen during heavily trafficked shopping times. Read your financial statements during the holidays and beyond, ensuring there are no errors or fraudulent charges. If there are, dispute them immediately. Also, it’s always a good idea to have your receipt of purchase on hand in case you need to report a missing order or return an item.
- Don’t be fooled by a good-looking website. Just because a website looks good doesn’t mean it’s real. Websites are easy to create, and scammers often use a name similar to a real business. Do your homework before you drop any money by verifying the company’s physical address and telephone number. Check SCDCA’s complaint portal, the Better Business Bureau’s complaints and search for reviews of the company, too.
For more tips on how to avoid scams, download our free guide to guarding against scams “Ditch the Pitch.”
The South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs aims to protect consumers from inequities in the marketplace through advocacy, complaint mediation, enforcement and education. To file a complaint or get information on consumer issues, visit www.consumer.sc.gov or call toll-free, 1 (800) 922-1594.