Don’t let fraud take the joy (or your money) out of holidays

The holidays are here, but unfortunately, so are the con artists looking for opportunities to spoil your celebrations. They are more than willing to use the joyous mood to get into your wallet. But with a little preparation and vigilance, you can cut down on the threat of becoming a scam victim.
• Charity scams. Legitimate charities make a big push at year-end for last minute annual donations. Scammers know this and make their own end-of-year push to line their own pockets. Before making a donation, experts recommend using charity-rating sites such as or to make sure the solicitation is from a legitimate organization. Also check with the the Washington secretary of state’s office at or by calling 1-800-332-4483 to make sure the charity is registered with the state.
• Package delivery scams. Thieves send fake e-mails from delivery services about a package being held pending delivery. The e-mail directs you to click on a link that asks for your credit card or other personal information. Closely review the e-mail. Check the sender information, look for misspellings, and hover over the link with your mouse to see if it is really taking you to the delivery service’s website. Also, request signatures for deliveries to stop thieves from stealing packages from doorsteps.
• Too-good-to-be-true online deals. Online ads, e-mails, social media posts – even from people you “know” — of impossibly good online deals could be scams. You might get nothing for your money or an inferior item, and your credit card number could be compromised during the transaction. A too-good-to-be-true deal should send up a red flag.
• Public wi-fi risks. Making purchases online while on public wi-fi is dangerous. Only shop on public wi-ii if you have a “Virtual Private Network” on your device and it is turned on. When you do shop online, stick with credit cards. You are liable for only up to $50 of fraudulent use, but your financial loss with a stolen debit card could be much higher.
• Gift card scams. Thieves can hit store gift card racks, scan the numbers off the cards, then check online or call the toll-free number to see if someone has bought and activated the cards. As soon as a card is active, the scammers drain the funds. By the time your gift recipient tries to use the card, the money is long gone. Before purchasing a gift card, be sure to check the back to make sure the activation code hasn’t already been revealed. Also consider skipping the large gift card racks in grocery and big box stores, and purchase them directly from the store clerk or buy them online.
• Romance scams. A perennial scam, the romance scam heats up around the holidays. Watch for people you meet on dating sites who quickly want to take your conversation offline, who may resist talking on the phone, who say they are abroad and can’t meet you in person, and eventually ask for money – to buy a plane ticket to come see you, or to help with a business venture, for example. Online dating can be fun and exciting, but beware of those who have money, and not love, on their minds.
Visit for additional tips on avoiding these and other scams and fraud.


Jason Erskine, who wrote this article, is the communications director for AARP Washington.



Scammers go to great lengths to trick you out of your personal information. We want to help you protect your information by helping you recognize a Social Security imposter.

There’s a widespread telephone scam involving callers claiming they’re from Social Security. The caller ID may even show a government number. These callers may tell you there’s a problem with your Social Security number. They may also threaten to arrest you unless you pay a fine or fee using gift cards, pre-paid debit cards, a wire transfer, or cash. That call is not from us.

If you receive a suspicious call from someone alleging to be from Social Security, please:

Hang up right away.

Never give your personal information, money, or retail gift cards.

Report the scam at to Social Security’s law enforcement team at the Office of the Inspector General.

Social Security will not:

  • Threaten you.
  • Tell you that your Social Security Number has been suspended.

Call you to demand an immediate payment.

Ask you for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

Require a specific means of debt repayment, like a prepaid debit card, a retail gift card, or cash.

Demand that you pay a Social Security debt without the ability to appeal the amount you owe.

Promise a Social Security benefit approval, or increase, in exchange for information or money.

Request personal or financial information through email, text messages, or social media.

Social Security will:

Sometimes call you to confirm you filed for a claim or to discuss other ongoing business you have with them.

Mail you a letter if there is a problem.

Mail you a letter if you need to submit payments that will have detailed information about options to make payments and the ability to appeal the decision.

Use emails, text messages, and social media to provide general information (not personal or financial information) on its programs and services if you have signed up to receive these messages.