For shoppers, Black Friday is about the biggest day of the year. It's becoming that for scammers, hopping to cash in on Americans' fixation on bargains.
Many of these scams use the Internet to lure their victims. Some are old stand-bys but some take advantage of new technology. Here are some common scam and rip-off tactics you should guard against:
You may receive phishing emails that attempt to solicit personal information. But, scammers have advanced this ploy by trying to get the same information with a text a message.
Posing as a bank, con artists send text messages with a toll-free number, which is answered by a sham automated service that prompts callers to enter their account number and password.
Why does it work so well? Most people assume text messages come from trusted sources because they rarely give out their cell phone number. But, random-dialing telemarketing services can hit any cell phone number by chance.
If you receive a text about an account, check to make sure the call back number is legitimate by running a Google search or calling the institution's customer service line.
Small and frequent charges
'Tis the season to closely monitor your credit card statements, looking for frequent unauthorized charges of just a few dollars, or even a few cents. Scammers often make a series of these smaller charges to test if their victim catches them.
In some cases, if the small charges go unreported, scammers will make much larger charges thinking their target won't contact the financial institution. In other cases, con artists make these low deductions to many accounts, accruing millions of dollars.
Review your bank statement every month and carefully look at each item. Report any suspect charge within 60 days, as credit card companies are legally required to remove the charge while they investigate. If you do not report fraudulent charges, then you could be responsible for those payments.
This time of year, take extra precautions with your debit card. Con artists can set up skimming equipment designed to capture magnetic stripe and keypad information when you input your PIN at ATM machines, gas pumps, restaurants or retailers. By extracting this information, scammers can make counterfeit ATM or debit cards and pull cash from victims' bank accounts.
You can add a measure of security if you always process the debit card transaction as though you were using a credit card. That way, you do not have to type in your PIN and there is less liability for credit transactions in cases of fraud. Be vigilant about choosing credit at gas stations, which are notorious for skimming.
Stick with only using ATMs at banks, because consumers must use PINs to access their account. If you use an ATM that is located in a place like a shopping mall or convenience store there is a greater chance that it might have been tampered. Take note of any changes in ATMs you use regularly that might signal tampering, such as a color difference in the card reader.
Closely monitor your bank account to ensure no unauthorized charges have been made that could have resulted from skimming.
With people spending more money online this season, be wary of unwanted membership programs that usually present themselves in online pop-ups and banner ads that appear when consumers make purchases from legitimate companies, such as online floral retailers.
These ads will tout offers like "$10 cash back on your next purchase," but by agreeing to the program, consumers actually sign-up for a Web discount program run by a separate company. And even though they sometimes weren't asked again for their credit card information, the unsuspecting consumers find they've been charged a fee to take advantage of the offer or inadvertently agreed to a monthly subscription.
Look out for pop-up windows that offer discounts or rewards. If you do click on the offer, make sure to read the fine print. Look at your credit card statement every month and report any unknown charge within 60 days. Check your inbox and spam folder for messages from Web loyalty programs preparing to charge your account. You might have a small window to unsubscribe to the program.
Stripped Gift Cards
When you purchase a gift card, be careful where you buy it. You are much safer buying it at a store where the cashier can place the amount of value on the card after you pay for it.
Otherwise, while a card may say it has $50, it might be stripped of its value. Scammers use handheld scanners to read the code behind the magnetic or scratch-off strip and combine that information with the card number on the front to steal the money off of the card. They place the defunct cards back on the racks for some unknowing customer to purchase.
Also, inspect the card to see if the magnetic strip appears to have been tampered with, and ask the cashier to scan the card to ensure it has money on it. Keep your receipts in case something does go awry.
Fake products pose a threat to American consumers. While it is hard to see the harm in an imitation handbag, counterfeit electronics could have substandard wiring, faulty fuses, flammable plastic casings or dangerous chemicals.
When buying electronics this holiday season, consumers should look for labels verifying the product has been certified by CSA International Underwriters Laboratory. To see what a genuine label looks like, go to www.CSA -International.org and click on 'Certification Marks.'
Avoid buying fake products by checking for any misspellings on the package and the manufacturer's phone number and address. Also, ensure all listed components are in the package, including batteries, power cords and cases.