Hop to it: Six Easter scams you want to avoid

The bad guys are on the hunt for more than eggs; keep your guard up

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East­er is a time for fam­i­ly, col­or­ful par­ties and egg hunts, but sad­ly it also attracts scam artists look­ing to make a quick buck dur­ing the high-fruc­tose corn syrup free-for-all.

There are all stripes of East­er­time cons and scams wait­ing for you if you’re not pay­ing attention—or even if you are. Some don’t real­ly qual­i­fy as scams, whether we’re talk­ing about those col­or­ful plas­tic eggs for stor­ing treats, some­times loaded with lead paint, that old favorite Kinder Eggs, now ille­gal due to chok­ing haz­ards, or folks sell­ing bad choco­late. First and fore­most, you need to be a savvy consumer.

Adam Levin, chair­man and co-founder of Credit.com and Cyber­Scout (for­mer­ly IDT911)

But aware­ness isn’t such an easy thing when there are so many ways a per­son can get scammed. Here are six scams to watch out for.

1. Char­i­ty scams

Some peo­ple say East­er was orig­i­nal­ly a pagan hol­i­day to cel­e­brate fer­til­i­ty, which explains the eggs and bun­nies, but it’s pri­mar­i­ly a reli­gious hol­i­day, and as such there are plen­ty of scams out there point­ed at spir­i­tu­al­ly mind­ed peo­ple look­ing to make the world a bet­ter place.

If you get an email from a char­i­ty, even if it’s one you’ve giv­en to in the past, don’t click any links. Type in the URL or find it through search and make sure the address is cor­rect. Scam sites often will be slight­ly dif­fer­ent than legit­i­mate ones. And although this should go with­out say­ing, nev­er give a dona­tion over the phone if you receive an unso­licit­ed solic­i­ta­tion. Call the char­i­ty, or use a secure site to make your con­tri­bu­tion rather than pro­vid­ing your infor­ma­tion by phone, or send a check.

2. E-cards

As I’ve said ad nau­se­am, includ­ing in my book Swiped: How to Pro­tect Your­self in a World Full of Scam­mers, Phish­ers and Iden­ti­ty Thieves, nev­er click strange links or down­load files you receive—even e-cards that appear to be from loved ones or friends. E-cards can mask links to malware.

3. Cute meme scams

The same thing goes for all the cute stuff you get via email this time of year. Before you click on the link below a mes­sage, ask your­self: Is it worth hours of has­sle get­ting a virus off your com­put­er or caus­ing mal­ware to install ran­somware or a key­stroke log­ger on your machine that gives a crook access to every finan­cial account you vis­it on your computer?

4. Pet scams

For bet­ter or worse (usu­al­ly worse for the ani­mals), adorable pet babies are a gift idea asso­ci­at­ed with East­er. In addi­tion to the ques­tion as to whether unex­pect­ed live­stock or wood­land crea­tures are a good idea, if you’re going to go pet shop­ping for the hol­i­day, beware that scam­mers are lying in wait to grab your mon­ey and dis­ap­pear into thin air. When­ev­er buy­ing a pet, do it in person.

5. Air­line scams

East­er Week is often dur­ing a school recess, and many peo­ple try to book last-minute trav­el. Be very care­ful when book­ing flights. Take the time to deter­mine whether or not it’s a scam. For starters, only do busi­ness with a secure (look for the pad­lock next to the URL) and well-reviewed site, and make sure the address is cor­rect. (You can see more tips for surf­ing the inter­net safe­ly here.) Also take the time to read and under­stand the pri­va­cy policy.

It could be that you receive an email or a phone call inform­ing you that you have a chance to cash in on a big win: Free air­line tick­ets. There have been sev­er­al attempts to con­tact you about the tick­ets (you won them through a sweep­stakes you have nev­er heard of, in which you were auto­mat­i­cal­ly enrolled when you pur­chased some prod­uct or ser­vice you can’t recall) and you’re going to lose the tick­ets if you don’t act quick­ly. There are cer­tain require­ments. But meet­ing those oblig­a­tions will cost you far more than the alleged free tickets.

6. Last-minute vaca­tion rental scam

The scam hap­pens when a thief finds a rental prop­er­ty online and uses the details to cre­ate his or her own web­site and list­ing. There may even be bogus five-star reviews, and the deal will sound par­tic­u­lar­ly afford­able, pos­si­bly due to a one-day-only inter­net sale. You book the list­ing, pay either by cred­it card or wire trans­fer, and pack your bags.

Here’s the prob­lem: When the time comes and you show up for your vaca­tion, that’s not your con­do. It’s not just a mat­ter of bait and switch, where the gor­geous prop­er­ty on the web­site doesn’t exact­ly live up to the real­i­ty. In this case, the prop­er­ty is very real and even very beau­ti­ful … but you didn’t rent it. There may even be anoth­er fam­i­ly inside. You now find your­self on vaca­tion with nowhere to sleep, and your scam­mer is nowhere to be found.

The thing about an East­er sug­ar high is that it makes you hap­py, and then you crash. When it comes to these scams, it’s all crash and no high. If you have rea­son to believe you’ve been the vic­tim of a scam, don’t brush it off. You can check for warn­ing signs by view­ing two of your free cred­it scores on Credit.com.

Full dis­clo­sure: Cyber­Scout spon­sors Third­Cer­tain­ty. This sto­ry orig­i­nat­ed as an Op/Ed con­tri­bu­tion to Credit.com and does not nec­es­sar­i­ly rep­re­sent the views of the com­pa­ny or its partners.

More on iden­ti­ty theft:
Iden­ti­ty Theft: What You Need to Know
3 Dumb Things You Can Do With Email
How Can You Tell If Your Iden­ti­ty Has Been Stolen?