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Monday, December 12, 2011

Scammers Turn To QR Codes And Gift Cards

Gift cards on display at a Kohl's store in Millbrae, Calif. (AP)

Gift cards on display at a Kohl's store in Millbrae, Calif. (AP)

In this holiday shopping season, don’t forget what your mother told you — if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Audri Lanford, of the scam-tracking website Scambusters.org, says that shoppers should be skeptical of out-of-this-world deals, because they are probably a scam.

Hoax Websites

Shopper Mary Ferring told CNN that she bought what she thought was high-quality cookware off a website that promised holiday gift deals, but what came in the mail were cheap metal pans with no return address and no way to get her money back. Lanford says this type of discount scam is one of the most prevalent.

“The biggest of these scams this year are the discount tablets, the iPads in particular. You get emails or you see ads that say you can get iPads, which normally start at about $500, for $99. Almost all of these are scams. You don’t get anything,” Lanford told Here & Now‘s Robin Young.

Lanford’s Advice:

  • Before placing an order, go to the “contact us” section to make sure they have information about returning products
  • Before typing your credit card information online, make sure that you are on a secure website — the URL should begin with “https” instead of just “http”

Gift Card Scams

If a gift card is on a display rack, scammers can grab it and jot down the gift card number, then they put it back on the rack and go online to see when the card has been purchased or activated. Then scammers can spend the money on the activated card.

Lanford’s Advice:

  • Don’t buy gift cards that are displayed on public racks

Infected QR Codes
Scammers are now doctoring QR codes to download malware onto your phone. Lanford says beware of QR codes that look suspicious and always make sure you only download apps from trusted sources.

Electronic Pick-pocketing
Radio frequency identification or RFID chips are now being put into some credit cards, allowing shoppers to pay by just holding their card up to an RFID console, instead of swiping.

But using certain equipment, a scammer can access the RFID chip, and read the information off of your credit card, even if it’s still in your pocket.

Lanford’s Advice:

  • Lanford says this scam is rare, but if you have a credit card with an RFID chip, you can put the card in a metal sleeve, which prevents it from being read remotely.

Have you fell victim to a shopping scam? How do you protect yourself from scams?

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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