5 tips to help Tampa Bay seniors avoid scams this holiday season

These best practices can help seniors keep their information — and money — safe.
Consumer watchdogs are warning of an uptick in holiday scams this season.
Consumer watchdogs are warning of an uptick in holiday scams this season. [ THANAKORN SUPPAMETHASAWAT | Dreamstime ]
Published Dec. 3, 2021|Updated Dec. 6, 2021

Online shopping has skyrocketed during the pandemic, and as the holiday season approaches and the U.S. braces for the unknowns of the omicron variant, its popularity is expected to continue this year.

Experts warn that an uptick in holiday scams may follow.

“Fraud is really like a crime of opportunity,” said Victoria Funes, associate state director for AARP Florida. “More traffic creates more available victims for people who are phishing for your dollars. Every time you have a holiday, the tactic gets modified to fit it, because that’s an easier way to hook people.”

Seventy-five percent of adults say they’ve been targeted by or experienced at least one form of fraud, according to a newly released survey from the AARP Fraud Watch Network.

But the holidays aren’t a time for fear, experts say — they’re an opportunity to learn best practices that can help you avoid the many scammers that pop up online, appear in your text messages or send letters to your door.

Scammers use many different tactics. But ultimately, their goal is the same — to extract personal information like a bank account login, credit card number or access to an individual’s computer.

Tip 1: If you didn’t initiate the communication, be wary.

“A good frame of mind is just to dismiss anything that you’re being pitched or solicited if you did not initiate it,” Funes said.

Don’t give out personal information to anyone seeking you out, be it by phone or online. Remember: You can always verify something yourself first.

Tip 2: Go with known and legitimate websites when shopping online.

A lot of scam websites will use web addresses that are similar to popular shopping sites like Macy’s or Home Depot — but usually, there’s a grammatical error or a slight difference.

If you get a pop-up or email promising a deal at an online website, don’t click the link. Look up the website yourself via a search browser, and make sure it is a legitimate homepage for a company you know.

Tip 3: If an unknown number calls with an “urgent matter,” hang up.

Whether they’re warning you of a warranty that’s about to expire, claiming a bank account has been breached or pretending to be a relative in crisis: Hang up the phone.

Nothing is so urgent that you can’t call back from a phone number listed on a legitimate website, or a number you have saved for that relative.

“It’s been proven that the longer you stay on the phone, the more vulnerable you become to them getting something out of you that they can use,” Funes said.

If a caller claims they’re “just doing their job” and discourages you from getting off the phone, it’s a red flag.

Tip 4: Don’t click on links in text messages.

Scammers will often send texts claiming an Amazon or bank account’s security has been compromised, and ask recipients to “Click here to verify your information.” Do not click the link.

“Sometimes even by clicking on it, you are getting to a higher security risk by them being able to get access to information on your mobile device,” Funes said. “They’re baiting you. They’re sending them to a whole bunch of people, and they know that somebody will bite.”

Tip 5: Use credit cards for online payments when possible.

Credit cards and digital wallets are safer to use online than debit cards, as they prevent someone from having direct access to the cash in your account.