Be ready – scammers take aim at the giving spirit during Christmastime

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — With just about a week before Christmas, holiday scams are reaching a peak right now. 

Here’s how to avoid two of what experts say are the most common holiday frauds.

Fake charities are on the worst scams out there. Shady operators try to fool donors with sound-alike names for charities.

“There’s a lot of opportunists who’ll spring up with charities that sound really legit, but aren’t,’’ said Fortune Magazine’s Lee Gallagher. “You have to be really careful,’’ she recently told CBS This Morning.

One way to do that is to check on charities is with an annual list published by the North Carolina Secretary Of State’s Office.

It lists all charities licensed to do business in the state. Not only that, but it also explains how much of donations actually go to those the charity is trying to help.

As the BBB says, research into a charity is vital.

“Look into the charity, make sure it’s legitimate,” says Mallory Wojciechowski of the BBB of Eastern North Carolina. “Find out what the funds are being used for. Ask those types of questions.”

The BBB runs the give.org website which also includes a national charity report list. 

The robust economy is also spurring many people to buy gifts more this holiday season and scammers are tapping into that too.

The National Retail Federation says Americans are expected to spend more than $700 billion this holiday season. And for the 12th year in a row, gift cards remain the most popular items on wish lists.

But, the BBB and others warn, scammers are wiping the cards clean before you ever get them.

USA Today’s National Business Correspondent Charisse Jones explained to CBS this morning how it’s done.

“They take the gift card, they write down the number and the pin number and put it back. Then you purchase the card. They see you do it and they quickly go online and use the balance of the gift card,” Jones said.  

To protect yourself:

  • Choose a card from the back of the rack where it’s more likely scammers haven’t already culled information from the gift card.
  • Examine the packaging for signs of tampering, especially near the card’s unique ID number.
  • Register the card if the retailer allows you to do that.
  • Don’t buy gift cards from third parties who can tamper with them before they get into your hands.

To help cut down on gift card fraud, some stores are limiting gift purchases. 

Among those stores are Walmart, Target and Best Buy. They are capping the number of gift cards one person can buy and how much money can be put on each card.

There’s one other gift card scam we need to mention. 

If the phone rings and it’s someone claiming you can pay off a tax or other bill using a gift card hang up fast. That person is just a scammer hoping to trick you out of your money.

The Federal Trade Commission says those gift card crimes using that scheme took over $53 million out of victim’s pockets last year.

The FTC says gift cards are like cash: if someone uses it, you probably cannot get your money back.

Even so, if you were scammed using a gift card or someone attempted to scam you, file a complaint with the FTC or call toll-free: 1-877-FTC-HELP.

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