JUST PLAIN TALK: Avoid online shopping scams targeting victims during holidays

Buz Livingston
Buz Livingston

If he’s not already, John Prine should be part of American literature courses. He may not be at the top of the class, but calling the roll won’t take long. In addition to being a brilliant craftsman, Prine loved Christmas and kept a tree up year-round. “Just spray some Pledge on it.” I still miss John Prine.

Criminals, though, target unsuspecting victims during the holidays. Last year, fraudsters stole a record $4.2 billion nationwide, with almost $300 million swiped from Floridians. Federal Trade Commission and FBI data show most scams originate with online shopping. Shopping directly from local businesses is a way to minimize scams, but that’s sometimes impractical. Moreover, given the way people drive on U.S. Highway 98, it’s dangerous.

Here are some online scams to avoid this season.

MISSING PACKAGE SCAM: Thieves often send fake emails or text messages with a link to track a package. Clicking on the link downloads malware that targets your financial information. Ensure your virus and malware protection is up to date. Don’t click on a link from an unexpected delivery notice.

FACEBOOK SECRET SISTER: A pyramid scheme targeting women, Secret Sister premised on sending a single gift that will generate multiple responses. This one doesn’t pass the smell test. Avoid any communication with “Secret Sisters.” Block any social media account linked to “Secret Sister.”

FAKE RETAILERS AND WEBSITES: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Consumers looking for a good deal can shoot themselves in the foot. Crooks hook unsuspecting consumers by advertising popular gifts at discount prices. I am not trying to give cover to anyone, but buyers should beware. Fake sites often have grammatical errors or a domain name slightly altered. Another warning is limited contact information. Do research. Google can be your friend; use it to see if there are any complaints.

CHARITABLE GIFT SCAMS: Crooks often pick a similar name to a well-known charity and vanish with your money instead of it going to the non-profit. Like with fake retail websites, the name may be changed a bit. A dead giveaway is a website that doesn’t use .com, .net, or .org. Research public databases like Charity Navigator before making any contribution.

FAKE INSTAGRAM GIVEAWAYS: Since I don’t use Instagram, I’m protected, but it’s a popular app. Like the missing package scam, outlaws use malicious links to compromise your personal and financial data. They snare unsuspecting consumers by promising the chance for complimentary products or a holiday prize. It’s known as “like-farming,” where fraudsters use the social media “like” feature to gain access to your Instagram account.

Some rip-offs prey on people’s good nature, but others take a different approach. In 1939, W.C. Fields played a conman named Larsen E. Whipsnade in the movie “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man.” While scrupulous people can get fleeced, criminals know people looking for a deal are easier marks. Unlike Prine, Fields loathed Christmas, but both were great American showmen.

You can’t always get what you want, but Buz Livingston, CFP can help you figure out what you need. For specific advice, visit livingstonfinancial.net or drop by 2050 West County Highway 30A, M1 Suite 230.