The end-of-year holiday season always brings an increase in scams, and law firms are not immune to this phenomenon.
When there is an increase in online shopping, charitable donations, and overall spending, scams related to these activities also become more frequent. Your law firm needs to be wary of these scams and learn how to avoid them.
Here we discuss some of the most common scams that rely on the internet, social media, email, and other communication channels. We also review some warning signs of these scams, as well as tips to protect you and your firm.
Fake online stores
One of the most common holiday scams is the fake online store that entices victims with deep discounts.
If you attempt to purchase items from one of these fake stores, you won’t actually receive the item, and you might not have much recourse to recover your money. The sites often require payment methods that cannot be reversed, such as gift cards, wire transfers, or payment apps.
Moreover, the scammers will likely use your payment information — such as a credit card number — to steal more funds from you.
To avoid these scams, learn to be wary of any site offering deep discounts of 50% or more.
Only trust deep discounts if you know the brand and you’re absolutely positive that you’re really on their website. Check spelling in the URL — a scammer may try to imitate a commonly known brand with alternative spellings like “Appple” instead of Apple.
Be alert to other telltale signs of a fake site such as low-quality images and poor spelling or grammar.
A legitimate site should have a basic company background page, contact information, and information on returns. If these elements are missing, get off the page immediately.
As always, if something just doesn’t feel quite right, it’s better to save your money and shop elsewhere. Remember, if you can’t find a similar discount at any other major retailers, it probably really is too good to be true.
Charitable giving tends to be popular around the holidays, which unfortunately means that charity scams also go on the rise.
These scams can happen online or over the phone. They often involve an attempt to rush you into making a donation or to trick you by thanking you for past donations that you didn’t make.
Some of the clues for fake charities are the same as for other online scams like odd phrasings, grammatical errors, misspelled words.
As with fake online stores, fake charity sites may use names similar to legitimate institutions, with very slight differences.
The best defense against these scams is to never make charitable donations over the phone or through links contained in text messages, emails, or social media posts. Instead, give directly through that charity’s website.
If you are unfamiliar with the charity, do your research with reliable sources such as the IRS or Better Business Bureau to ensure it is legitimate.
Gift card scams
With the season of gift giving comes the season of gift cards, and with that comes a bevy of scams related to those cards.
The most common trick is to use the offer of a gift card as a ploy to obtain personal information. The information can then be used by scammers for identity theft or sold to other cybercriminals.
The best method of avoiding this type of scam is to avoid clicking on gift card offer links, which often appear in popups, when browsing online. Only buy gift cards from reputable retailers.
Avoid any websites unaffiliated with that retailer that offer to check the balance of your gift card, too. These are another common ploy to convince buyers to reveal personal information.
Fake gift exchanges
Fake gift exchanges commonly appear on social media. They often promise participants that if they make one small purchase, such as a bottle of wine or a low-value gift card, they will receive numerous gifts in return.
When you join the “gift exchange,” these sites generally ask for your personal information, as well as information about your friends.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns that these so-called exchanges are actually illegal pyramid schemes.
Not only will you fail to receive any gifts in return for your purchase, your information will likely be used for identity theft. The BBB suggests avoiding any contact with these gift exchanges and reporting any social media posts promoting them.
Package delivery scams
Package delivery notifications are another common form of holiday scam.
These often come in the form of emails or text messages from a sender appearing to be a legitimate package carrier, such as UPS, FedEx, or the U.S. Postal Service. The message will state you need to take some action with a delivery — perhaps confirm your order before delivery, or reschedule delivery — then provide a link to do so.
The link will then either require you to input your personal information, or it will install malware on your device which steals your information. Sometimes, the scammer asks you to pay a fee to ensure prompt delivery.
These messages often have the same signs as other scams like spelling or grammatical errors and email addresses that do not match the shipping company. It will also be a generic message that doesn’t tell you what item is being shipped or from where.
But instead of searching for these signs, the better practice is simply to ignore and delete these messages.
Legitimate delivery companies will never ask you to give information or money to complete a delivery. Most delivery companies won’t text you unless you’ve specifically opted in.
If you need to track a delivery you actually purchased, do so through the shipping company’s website or through the company where you made the purchase.
Tips to avoid these scams
The FBI provides a number of tips to avoid holiday scams.
One is to avoid clicking on suspicious links or attachments anywhere you see them, whether that’s in emails, social media posts, text messages, or websites. When you click phishing links, the scammer obtains access to your personal information, and you could potentially download malware.
Another tip is to research the legitimacy of any seller before going through with a purchase.
Avoid using irreversible payment methods such as wire transfers or gift cards, and use credit cards instead.
When you make legitimate purchases, monitor the shipping process yourself so you are less likely to be fooled by fake notifications.
The holiday season can be a time of rest, relaxation, and celebration for hardworking legal professionals, but we still need to remain vigilant. Steer clear of holiday scams such as the ones outlined here so that the holidays will remain merry and bright for you and your firm.