BY AJ Trager
The holiday season is an exciting time of the year to celebrate with loved ones and family. However, the holidays also have a reputation for causing stress which has the potential to distract customers who pour billions of dollars into the economy during this time and may be potentially put at risk. A new AARP study of Michigan adults ages 18 and older has determined five areas where consumers should be alert during the holiday season.
A majority of Michigan residents are ill equipped with handling holiday scams related to charitable giving, gift cards and the use of public Wi-Fi, the report finds. Mark Hornbeck, associate state director of communications with AARP Michigan, said AARP also found many people are doing things that could make them vulnerable to con artists.
The survey was completed by 800 adults and explored how much residents knew about avoiding scams, how their behaviors might put them at risk and whether they experienced any stressful life events that could make it difficult to resist swindlers in the marketplace.
Sixty-six percent of holiday shoppers failed a short quiz on how to stay safe from holiday scams by answering four or fewer of seven questions correctly. The report suggests that these individuals also participate in risky behaviors such as not confirming important financial details, purchasing gifts cards from potentially risky locations, using debit cards that offer less consumer protections than credit cards, using unsecured public Wi-Fi for shopping and receiving packages without signatures — all of which put them at higher risk of scam.
Just over two-thirds of Michigan shoppers who donated to a charity in the past year did so without asking what percentage of their donation went to the fundraiser and the charity itself. Not verifying this step puts them at risk of donating to an organization that was not legally authorized to raise money in the state. Fewer than 5 percent of Michigan shoppers could name the agency (Attorney General in Michigan) that could verify the validity of the charity or fundraiser.
Debit cards provide weaker security over financial information than credit cards. A consumer is liable for up to $50 of a fraudulent charge that resulted from a lost or stolen credit card. The losses incurred from a stolen debit card are known for being more significant.
The report also looked at how individuals who have experienced recent stressful life events are more susceptible to scams. Two-thirds of holiday shoppers in the study say they have experienced at least one life stress event in the past six months which could have the potential to lower concentration and attention to detail.
In order to maintain security and privacy the AARP suggests shoppers use their credit card instead of their debit card while out shopping, check to see if a charity is registered with the Secretary of State, not use public Wi-Fi to check sensitive information, require a signature on all package deliveries, get gift cards from the corresponding business and pay special attention to their health and well-being when making important purchasing decisions. Research shows that people experiencing life stressors such as an illness, loneliness or financial difficulties are less likely to spot and avoid scams.
To read the whole report visit http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/econ/2015/beware-the-grinch-mi-holiday-fraud-res-econ.pdf.