Holiday Scam 4: Relative Imposter Scams
How the scam works: This can take a couple of forms. In the first one, you receive a call from a “niece" or “grandson," who is in a jam and needs money immediately. The thief often might even throw in convincing details unearthed through a quick internet search of your real loved one's social media accounts. Or it could be a Thanksgiving scam with someone claiming to be a long-lost relative hoping to reconnect and requesting money for bus fare or other expenses. The perpetrator may ask you to pay them in gift cards since they know this form of payment is harder to trace.
Tips to avoid this holiday scam: If someone calls claiming to be a relative you talk to regularly, you'll recognize it's not their voice. But those distant family members you only keep up with on social media but never talk to on the phone and haven't seen in years? You may not know if it's really them or not. If you get a call from someone claiming to be such a relative, ask them if you can call them right back (if you have their number) or connect via social media or email (using whatever info you've used to communicate in the past), rather than using the contact info given to you by the caller. If you contact the real person and they say they didn't call you, you know the call was a scam. You also can contact other family members to verify that your “niece" is indeed traveling. Chances are good she isn't. And only use gift cards for actual gifts — never as payment.
Holiday Scam 5: Fake Check Scams
How the scam works: Say someone agrees to buy the old holiday decorations you listed for sale, and then mails or leaves a check. Upon examination, you realize they have “accidentally" overpaid, and they ask you to repay the overage. You do, but when you cash their check, you find it's fraudulent. In another iteration, you answer a fake job posting for a “mystery shopper" (hey, you're out shopping anyway!), and they send you a check to cover gift cards, which they'd like you to purchase and send. You realize you are out the money when the check bounces.
Tips to avoid this holiday scam: Require strangers to use cash when buying something from you, and never accept overpayment for an item or service. And never use a check payment to cover gift cards or money orders that you then send to a stranger.
Holiday Scam 6: The Usual Scams
How the scams work: Christmas phishing scams (by email), vishing (“voice" or phone-related scams), and smishing (by text) are omnipresent, but often become more common around the holidays. Each of these involves getting contacted by what appears to be a trusted source, asking you to click a link (which installs malware) or send money (which is then stolen). Another common scam you'll see all year long is “card skimming," when thieves capture your credit or debit card data when you swipe for a transaction.
Tips to avoid this holiday scam: The key is to be vigilant all the time: Never click on a link in an email or give out personal information by phone or email. If someone contacts you, don't just immediately reply. Instead, call the number you normally use for them or look it up online. And for card skimming, inspect card readers to make sure they haven't been tampered with. Use credit if it's a choice since it won't require a PIN code and your credit card provider will typically cover any fraudulent charges. And always monitor your bank account and credit card accounts carefully so you can catch and address fraud as soon as possible.
And remember: No reputable financial institution — including Synovus — will ever call, email, or text you to ask for your personal information. Keeping an eye out for potential holiday scams will help you keep the season merry and bright.