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.
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 will often 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.
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
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.
Tip: Whenever you’re booking a rental property — for any reason, not just a beach getaway — there’s a sneaky little trick you can use to verify the authenticity of the listing and the property. Instead of emailing, call the person, but first do an online search for other businesses in the area surrounding the property, then ask the contact some specific questions to which you’ve already figured out the answers. How far is it to the nearest beach access? Where is the nearest restaurant with a kids’ menu? How far are we from an emergency room in case someone in our group gets hurt?
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.