Schemes and scams increase by as much as 80% in the weeks preceding the Christmas holidays, the local chapter of the Better Business Bureau tells News Radio 1200 WOAI.
Regional BBB Director Jason Meza says with so many people whipping out the plastic to buy items on line, hackers are ready to steal your personal information, and scammers are ready to con you into falling for fake e-commerce web sites.
"The thing we advocate the most for is updating your anti virus software before you present personal information on line, including your phone," Meza says.
The BBB says they don't call it the 'World Wide Web' for nothing, because hackers and scammers worldwide can't wait to grab credit card numbers of identifying information from people who don't take common sense steps to protect themselves.
He says a real problem is fake web sites, which look identical to Amazon.com or other familiar e-commerce sites. Meza says if you get a spam e-mail come on for an 'amazing deal,' there's a good chance that you are being directed to a bogus site which will snap up your credit card number.'
"There are so many fake web sites out there, it is tough to determine if you are really on a merchant's site," he said. "The main thing is, go directly to the web site, don't click on links that come in to your e-mail in box."
Meza suggests making all on line purchases with a credit card, because they provide more protection in case you are victimized than a debit or gift card.
And Christmas means the end of the year, and the familiar 'tax scam,' which is the most successful phone scam ever, is popping up again as people start thinking about paying their 2018 taxes.
"The tax collection scam, its the end of year already, so a lot of scammers are pretending to be IRS employees, claiming you owe money for back taxes. If you question them they get very aggressive and some people even pay even though they don't owe a penny, so that is a very successful scam."
And now that technology allows scammers to 'spoof' phone numbers, up to the point where it says 'Internal Revenue Service' on your phone, the scam has more power. Many times the scammer will threaten to call the police, going so far as to play recordings of police sirens and police radios in the background, and frequently will demand payment in untraceable gift cards.
These scammers play on the natural fear many Americans have of the IRS, but the agency says that if you get to the point where a past due bill is in collections, you will already have received plenty of notices in the mail.
And if anybody demands payment in gift cards, its a scam. Legitimate government agencies never do that, and most also never threaten people or demand payment over the phone.