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7 holiday scams local experts say you should watch out for

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HOUSTON – From personal information to packages on the porch, thieves are trying to take it all.

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan wants to remind everyone to be aware of holiday scams, especially those that target senior citizens.

Here are seven common scams to watch out for, according to The Harris County Attorney’s Office.

1. Letters from Santa Claus

An unsolicited email offering a free letter from Santa is a red flag. This may be an attempt to get your personal information or get you to download malicious software.

2. Fake Gift Cards

Be sure to buy gift cards from a trusted source, such as in-store or the retailer’s direct website. Cards purchased from racks should be unopened and not tampered with. When purchasing a gift card, get a receipt so it can be replaced if lost or stolen.

3. Unsecured websites

Scammers create convincing websites of stores or charity that appear legitimate. Helpful tips are to pay attention to the spelling of web addresses and check for the URL to start with “https." Avoid sites that lack the “s,” starting with http or don’t have a lock symbol in the address bar. The extra “s” stands for secure. Avoid pop-ups that may try to redirect you to fake sites trying to solicit money or information.

4. Fake Charities

Individuals claiming to represent a charity are counting on your generous nature so they can pry your gift money from your pockets. Be sure to research a charity if you are unsure. Give.org can help you validate a charity.

5. Holiday E-cards

Your inbox may fill up this year with greetings from friends and family or even your favorite retailers. These may contain links to malicious websites that try to obtain money or information from you. Check the URL of the link before clicking on it or contact the sender to confirm they sent the e-card.

6. Package Thieves

Scammers are waiting for your packages to arrive so they can snatch them up while you’re not home. Some thieves may even contact you to notify you of an unsuccessful delivery attempt. They should not request payment or personal information to re-deliver the package.

Another variation is an email that says you’re getting a package and asks you to click a link to verify your shipping address. Watch out- it might be an attempt to get your personal information or to download malicious software onto your computer.

7. Unusual forms of payment

Being asked to pay with a prepaid debit card, a gift card, wire transfer or other unusual form of payment should always set off warning bells. These forms of payment often can’t be traced or undone and are a tool scammers favor. Using a credit card will offer you more consumer protection in the event you don’t get what you paid for.

If you feel you or someone you know may be a victim of fraud or scams, contact your local police department or the Office of the Harris County Attorney at (713) 755-5101.