Division of Consumer Affairs Offers Holiday Scam Prevention Tips

Wednesday, December 21, 2016 | 10:35am

NASHVILLE –While the holidays are a season of giving and well wishes for most, the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance’s (TDCI) Division of Consumer Affairs warns consumers that scammers often use this time of year to prey upon the good cheer of others.

“Don’t let scammers steal the joy from your holiday season,” said TDCI Consumer Protection Director Cynthia Wiel. “Guard your personal information carefully and stay informed of the latest schemes and swindles. Remember, ‘if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is’ remains one of the best guidelines when it comes to avoiding scams.”

Tennesseans can fight back against scam artists by taking these basic precautions:

  • Be suspicious of anyone requiring you to send money with prepaid money cards.
  • When shopping online, use a credit card offering fraud protection instead of a debit card.
  • Only shop on secure websites.  Look for https in the address (the extra “s” is for “secure”) and for a lock symbol.
  • When it comes to charitable giving:
    • Check to see if the charity is registered with the Tennessee Secretary of State.
    • Avoid being pressured to make an immediate donation. Don’t hesitate to ask questions to get more information.
    • Never write out a check or give cash to an individual solicitor. Write out checks to the name of the organization or use a credit card.

Many holiday scams involve phishing. Phishing is the act of tricking consumers into revealing information or performing actions they wouldn’t normally do online using phony email or social media posts. Cyberscammers tailor their emails and social messages with holiday themes in the hopes of tricking recipients into revealing personal information.

The Division of Consumer Affairs encourages consumers to be familiar with these common holiday scams:                                                                   

  • UPS phishing scams: A phony notice from UPS says you have a package and need to fill out an attached form to get it delivered. The form may ask for personal or financial details that will go straight into the hands of the cyberscammer.
  • Banking phishing scams: Cybercriminals craft emails to look like notices sent by actual banks in hopes of scamming busy and distracted consumers into providing their online banking usernames and passwords. From July to September of this year, McAfee Labs identified approximately 2,700 phishing URLs per day.
  • SMS phishing scams: Scammers send fake messages via a text alert to a phone, notifying an unsuspecting consumer that his bank account has been compromised. The cybercriminals then direct the consumer to call a phone number to get it re-activated—and collects the user’s personal information including Social Security number, address, and account details.
  • E-card scams: While sending electronic cards can be convenient and fun, beware if you must share additional information to open the card, or if the sender’s name is not apparent.
  • Holiday job scams: Retailers and delivery services need extra help at the holidays, but beware of solicitations that require you to share personal information online or pay for a job lead. Apply in person or go to retailers’ main websites to find out who is hiring.
  • Letters from Santa scams: Several trusted companies offer charming and personalized letters from Santa, but scammers mimic them to get personal information from unsuspecting parents. Check with www.bbb.org  to find out which ones are legitimate.
  • Family emergency scams: Be cautious if you get a call or email from a family member or friend claiming to be in an accident, arrested, or hospitalized while traveling in another country. Never send money unless you confirm with another family member that it’s true.

For more consumer resources, or to file a complaint, contact the TDCI Division of Consumer Affairs at 800-342-8385 or visit WeHelpConsumers.tn.gov.