Holiday shopping scams, even gift cards aren't immune

'Tis the season for giving, and sadly, also stealing. As Black Friday nears, fraud experts want to help you protect yourself against crooks.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, more of us are online than ever before.

"The risks are even greater than they were before," said Kathy Stokes, director of fraud prevention programs, AARP.

So it's vital our networks stay protected. 

"You need to keep your operating software updated," said Stokes. "Sometimes, it’s a patch to cover up a vulnerability that the company has recognized. Same with your antivirus software."

Stokes said cammers are using online shopping, shipping, gift cards, peer-to-peer apps and charity fraud to steal money from consumers.

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"75% of us have been targeted or victimized by fraud," said Stokes.

As you're looking to make that holiday purchase, she said you should keep a few things in mind.

"Use a credit card," said Stokes. "It has the most protections. You may not be responsible for any losses at all. At the most, it's $50, and most banks waive that."

Just when you think giving a gift card is the safest route, Stokes says scammers are compromising those, as well.

"We found that 21% of us adults say they have given or received a gift card with no value on it," said Stokes. "They take cards off the rack, expose the pin, take the pictures, put the cover back on the pin, put the cards back up."

The thieves then wait, stealing the information once the card is activated. When it comes to peer-to-peer apps like Venmo or Cash App, only send money to people you know.

"If you are defrauded using one of these in a way you are not supposed to, you are not getting your money back," said Stokes.

With the desire to give back, make sure you research your charity at verified sites before you shell out money to support it.

"If you know about a scam, you are far less likely to engage with it," said Stokes.

Nearly 8,000 people call AARP's Fraud Watch Network helpline every month to report suspected scams.

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