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Scam Tips: Avoiding the Tricks of Holiday Grinches

The layaway bills included plenty of Christmas presents, including kids toys and clothing.
Creative Commons
The layaway bills included plenty of Christmas presents, including kids toys and clothing.

Just like the Grinch, identity thieves and other scammers are ready and waiting to squash the joy of the holiday season.

However, Michiganders can reduce the chances of becoming a scam victim.

With shoppers distracted by their to-do lists and opening their wallets frequently, Mark Hornbeck, associate state director for communications with AARP Michigan, says thieves are ready to pounce.

He explains online shoppers need to watch out for fraudulent websites when making purchases.

"They can make addresses that are similar," he says. "For example, amazon-shop.com is not amazon.com.

"And this is called spoofing. It gets you to reveal some information about yourself that can be used for identity theft or other foul purposes."

Also, Hornbeck suggests avoiding public Wi-Fi when checking sensitive personal information or making purchases.

And using a credit card rather than a debit card can help better protect shoppers.

Gift card scams also are common, and Hornbeck recommends always buying them directly from the cashier, instead of off of a rack where they could be compromised.

The convenience of online shopping means packages can pile up on doorsteps, which Hornbeck says might draw porch thieves.

"When you have a gift delivered somewhere, you should require a delivery signature for packages to avoid the possibility of those packages being stolen from the recipient's doorstep, which is becoming an increasing problem," he advises.

Hornbeck says charitable giving also presents an opportunity for con artists, and so Michiganders should verify the legitimacy of any organization that is asking for money.

Hornbeck adds scammers will stop at nothing to get what they want, and even have developed a new, fake letters-from-Santa scheme.

"In those cases, you're sharing your child's personal information," he points out. "And there are some very nefarious reasons for wanting a child's personal information, so make sure it's a legitimate company that you're working with."

AARP has resources to help identify scams. Learn more at aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.