PhotoThe end of the year seems to always bring the scammers out of the woodwork. Maybe because it's the holiday season, they feel the pressure to increase their bottom line as well.

A new AARP Fraud Watch Network survey found nearly 70% of consumers failed a quiz about common holiday scams and how to avoid them, suggesting consumers remain highly vulnerable. The brief quiz is related to charitable giving, gift cards, package deliveries, and use of public Wi-Fi.

"While most of us focus on family and friends during the holidays, fraudsters are zeroing in on our wallets and bank accounts," said AARP Illinois Communications Manager Gerardo Cardenas. "We're encouraging consumers to elevate their awareness of some emerging and frequent scams, and to also share the information with their families to help keep them safe this holiday season."

Potential threats

Here are a few of the scams that seemed to trip up the consumers taking the quiz:

A scammer will create a copycat ecommerce website, offering unbelievable deals on impossible-to-find merchandise. The scammer promotes the site by sending out millions of spam emails, with links sending unsuspecting victims to the site.

You can guess what happens next. Victims either enter their credit card information for the fake merchandise or click on a link that downloads nasty malware.

Consumers who buy gift cards often are unaware that a scammer may have already drained money from the card. All he has to do is go to a store's gift card rack, write down or electronically scan the numbers off the cards, then check online or call the toll-free number to see if someone has bought the cards and activated them.

Once a card is activated, he'll drain the funds and by the time you try to use the same card the money is long gone.

Consumers can avoid this by purchasing gift cards directly from the retailer or restaurant. Ideally, the cashier should load the amount at checkout. Be sure to examine both sides of the card and look for signs of tampering such as an exposed PIN.

Be on the lookout for phony charities. This time of year scammers will pull on heartstrings and pretend to be collecting for a worthy cause. In one of the more popular holiday scams, scammers will misuse the name of a genuine organization or make up their own to take advantage of people's good will and holiday spirit and steal their money.

To avoid this scam, only donate to charities you know. If you aren't sure, you can check it out at sites like

Tax scams

Not all end-of-the-year scams center around the holidays. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says her office has noted an uptick in IRS-related scams tied to the upcoming tax season.

Madigan says a number of Illinois residents have been contacted by callers who pose as IRS officials. The scammers then try to scare people into sending money to pay for allegedly unpaid taxes.

And don't be fooled if your caller ID registers the call from the IRS. Madigan says it easy to “spoof” caller ID devices and cause them to display what appears to be legitimate call from the tax agengy, with identifiers such “IRS” or the (202) area code for Washington, D.C.

Madigan says the person on the other end of the line is not a government employee, but a scammer. If you get one of these calls, just hang up.

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