Using the Better Business Bureau's Scam Tracker, the ABC11 I-Team counted 82 scam reports in North Carolina since Thanksgiving, including schemes that resulted in families losing up to $27,000.
"They'll pull your heartstrings or they'll use the fear factor," Mallory Wojciechowski, CEO of BBB Serving Eastern North Carolina, told ABC11. "We tell people to do their research, ask questions and don't give in to impulse."
On Thursday, Attorney General Josh Stein released a laundry list of popular scams targeting residents, including holiday shopping, charities, investments and imposter scams, among others. When it comes to charitable giving, Stein says beware of phony charities that pick names resembling familiar and reputable charities.
Among the other tips offered by the NC Department of Justice:
- Protect your personal info. It's easy to hit the "Buy" button from anywhere when you're on your phone or on your laptop. But be sure you're not sharing personal or credit card information over public Wi-Fi. Wait until you're on a secure network to make a purchase.
- Gift cards are a convenient gift for the holidays, but they also open the door to several scams. To ensure your gift card is protected, avoid the rack and ask for one directly from the counter.
- There may appear to be deals galore over the holidays, and many of them are on social media - but not all of them are legitimate. Carefully read reviews, look for security credentials on websites, and research unfamiliar retailers before you take advantage of a discount.
- Always pay by credit card and keep receipts so you can try to get refunds if there's an issue..
- For more frauds targeting senior citizens, visit the AARP Fraud Watch Network.
- Seniors or older adults may also be scammed by being told they can get medical equipment with very little paperwork, and that Medicare will cover the cost.
- Before you give, review the annual reports compiled by the NC Department of the Secretary of State Charitable Solicitation Licensing Division. Verify the organizations using sources like the NC Department of the Secretary of State, Better Business Bureau's (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or GuideStar.
- Consider giving to charities you are familiar with personally, and whose work and benefits you can see in your local communities.
- Often, phony charities will pick names that sound like familiar, reputable charities. Make sure you know the exact name of the charity you're donating to, and look them up beforehand.
- Go through the Smart Donor Checklist to ask questions that will help you determine whether or not to give to a specific charity.
- When donating to veterans' organizations, search the VA organization or representative first to make sure they're legitimate.
- Before making year-end investment decisions, make sure to do your research. Check multiple databases about investment opportunities, and call the Secretary of State's Investor Hotline at 919-814-5400 or 800-688-4507. You can also browse their educational materials as you look to make investment decisions.
- Regardless of whether you're a teacher, a senior or a member of the military, there are probably specialty investment scams directed toward you. Learn what to look for, and what to avoid, here.
- Review this list of investment frauds directed at seniors with the seniors in your family. Be sure they know to be on the lookout for scammers with these false claims.
- Additional Investment Resources: North American Securities Administrators Association U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Financial Industry Regulatory Authority SmartCheck Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
- Be on the lookout for scams that target military personnel and their loved ones. The military grandparents scam specifically targets elderly relatives with military members.
- Grandparent scammers pretend to be family members or loved ones, desperate for money after an accident or serious situation. These con artists will prey on your emotions - be sure to check the story out first, and reach out to other loved ones to help confirm the claim. Don't be taken by their demands for money or assistance.
- Kidnapping scams are also on the rise - scammers will contact you and claim they have kidnapped your loved ones or a member of your family, demanding a ransom to release them.
- Jury duty scammers work year-round, claiming to be from the sheriff's office or local law enforcement, insisting you've missed jury duty or a court date and demanding you pay a fine. Remember that real law enforcement officials will never call you to threaten you with arrest or demand money. Hang up immediately and report the calls to your local police department.
If you think you or someone you know might have been scammed or contacted by a scammer, report it to the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or filing a complaint online at www.ncdoj.gov.