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Attorney General Stein’s December Column: Don’t Let Holiday Scammers Become Your Scrooges

December 2023

It’s the “most wonderful time of the year,” and everyone should be thinking about spending time with family and friends or finding the perfect gifts for their loved ones. But for scammers, this can be the most profitable time of the year. The holidays are a busy time for criminals who want to steal your money or personal information. As you make your holiday plans this year, safeguard your holiday spirit – and your wallet.

As folks scramble to buy last-minute holiday gifts, many of them will be shopping online to find the best deals. Scammers know that online shopping will spike this time of year, and that’s where they try to take advantage of unaware shoppers. They create fake websites with phony products that will never show up at your doorstep, or they use these sites to gather your personal information. Always double-check the URL for “https:” to know you’re on a secure site, and never visit a website by clicking a pop-up ad. When shopping online, go directly to the website.

It’s also safest to pay by credit card. You should never pay by wire transfer, pre-paid gift cards, or with cryptocurrency. If an online vendor asks for an unusual form of payment, it is likely a scam. Keep your receipts, too. With a credit card and receipt of payment, you will be more likely to get a refund if there is an issue with your order.

When you do place an order online, stay on top of your shipping information. Make sure you have tracking numbers from the vendor or mail carrier so you can track your package directly with them. Scammers like to trick shoppers with fake text messages or emails claiming an issue with their delivery. Avoid clicking any links; instead, contact the company directly if you think there might be an issue with an order. Texts or emails can be fake and contain phishing links designed to suck up your personal information.

Many people will be giving back by donating to charities this month, and criminals look to prey on their generosity with charity scams. Give to charities you know and have researched to avoid these scams. Donating directly through an organization’s website will help you stay away from fake crowdfunding and social media campaigns or phony organizations. If you’re unsure about a charity, call my office or the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance if you’re unsure of an organization’s authenticity.

The holidays should be the season of giving, not stealing. If you think you or someone you know has been the victim of a scam, file a complaint with my office’s Consumer Protection Division at www.ncdoj.gov/complaint or by phone at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM. I hope you have a happy and safe holiday season with your friends and family, and best wishes for 2024!

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