Holidays, Traditions and Scams

It’s funny how holiday traditions get started. Some are rooted in faith, religion or cultural heritage and have been handed down for generations. Others are more personal and reflect the relationships, history and humor unique to a particular family.

I always associate Christmas with a homegrown scam, perpetrated by my little brother. When we were young, he had the habit of peeking at his presents before Christmas morning. Although it never even crossed my mind to try to see what I’d be getting, my brother was all about instant gratification.

Enterprising young fraudster that he was, he found a way to unwrap and then rewrap every single one of his gifts. When the “con” was discovered, Dad shook his head and said it was a bit like stealing Christmas from yourself. My mother solved the problem by making sure that the copper, green and gold foil packages went under the tree—without a gift tag.

My brother and I are grown now and have families of our own. But not labeling gifts is a tradition that has lived on. I like to think of it as an added security measure to keep safe the surprise of Christmas morning gift giving.

A New Tradition: Protect Your Loved Ones From Holiday Fraud

Sadly, the holidays bring a far more dangerous risk of real and significant financial fraud, especially for families who shop for gifts online. Statistics confirm that the 2016 holiday season will bring an increase in instances of credit card fraud targeting e-shoppers.

There are a number of ways to avoid being scammed over the holiday season.

Using a credit card, as opposed to a debit card, is generally considered to be a safer way to shop, especially online. By law, you are fully protected if your credit card is attacked. It is the card issuer that is responsible for recovering any lost funds. But with debit cards, you have only two days to report the fraud to limit your loss to $50, only 60 days to report it to limit your loss to $500, and you could lose everything in your bank account, including everything in linked accounts, if you fail to report the fraud within 60 days.

There is also an uptick in charity scams around the holidays when people are naturally inclined to be generous. Be wary of any charity that refuses to provide details about its identity, cannot provide proof that your contribution is tax-deductible or even thanks you for a donation you do not remember making. When in doubt, check the trustworthiness of a charity at one of the charity “watchdogs” like the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch and GuideStar.

Beyond holiday charity scams, familiarize yourself and family members about current schemes that target seniors and family members—education is considered to be the first line of defense in recognizing fraud. Click here for a current list of threats. The National Council on the Aging (NCOA), AARP and EverSafe® also have some good tips on avoiding scams that specifically target seniors.

One of the most important ways to prevent fraud over the holiday season is to vigorously monitor your financial accounts and credit reports. Help your loved ones keep an eye on their finances as well by offering to receive alerts on their accounts at the first sign of irregular activity. EverSafe is a company that provides this protection to families and is currently offering a holiday special: Try it free for two months and see what family financial security feels like.

If you’re making it a tradition to avoid being victimized by the ever-growing number of fraudsters, helping your family monitor their money and identity may be the best present ever!

Holidays at my parents’ house will be better than ever this year, with more kids and grandkids running around—bright-eyed with excitement. We’ll keep the tradition of not putting names on gifts, and feel gratitude for our growing family, our traditions and our love for one another.