No place like phone for holiday fraud.

thMy pay-as-you-go flip phone regularly receives calls from numbers I don’t recognize. For a while I’d pick up any that began with 206 or 425; having lived in Seattle for eight years I figured it might be an old acquaintance or former classmate.

Each time, though, it was a robonotification about a great deal on a credit card, vacation or something else I didn’t need. Nowadays I don’t pick up, and guess what? Those unknown callers never leave messages!

I’m not alone in feeling pestered. Phone-spam victims received an average of 118 sales-pitchy or downright fraudulent calls this year, according to a new study from Hiya, a free caller ID/call-blocker app.

And there’s no place like your phone for holiday fraud. Seasonal scams are up by 113 percent over last year, the study notes.

Among them:


Gift card scams. A recipient is told that he’s won a FREE CARD! To get this prize, all he has to do is pay an activation fee and/or shipping and handling. Alternate scenario: The recipient is given the opportunity to purchase one card and get two more for free. In either case, you can imagine what happens once the victims have handed over their credit card numbers.

Cruise scams. Being told that you  won a free cruise call sounds great, until you’re also told that you must pay “port fees” or some kind of tax to claim the tickets. Riiiight.

Charitable scams. Veterans need your help! So do police unions, state troopers, breast cancer survivors and firefighters. And indeed these groups do – but it’s essential to check the veracity of the organizations. Personally, I never donate over the phone because I have no idea who’s on the other end of the line.

Generally I screen my numbers on our landline, too. But if I accidentally pick up a begging call, I ask that an official request be sent to me on company letterhead so that I can research the organization through a watchdog site like Charity Navigator. Not once has a caller agreed to do that.


Holiday team challenge at Swagbucks

A seasonal team challenge is currently on at the Swagbucks rewards site. “Dashing Through The Dough” divides Swagbucks users into four groups – I’m one of the Ginger Bread Heads – and the team with the most points wins.

It’s a friendly competition but there’s a little incentive, too. All members of the winning team who have contributed at least 400 points (formerly “Swagbucks,” now “SB”) will earn 50-SB bonuses.

Contribute those points through activities like using the Swagbucks search engine, taking surveys, watching videos and shopping online through the site’s portal.

If you’re not already a member, I hope you’ll join with my affiliate link.

Even if you don’t use my link, I hope you’ll join somehow. This is my favorite rewards program, one that has helped me pay for a lot of holiday shopping. Meals out, too: Later this month I’ll be heading down to Phoenix and plan to treat my daughter and son-in-law to dinner with some Swagbucks gift cards.


Get going on that FAFSA

You’ve had since Oct. 1 to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Money savant Jean Chatzky says that the best time to have done this was, well, right away.

And if not? The next best time is right now.

Citing an Edvisors.com study called “Leaving money on the table,” Chatzky points out that “students who file the FAFSA in the first three months after applications open have historically received more than two times the grant funding.”

In her newsletter, Chatzky cited another interesting study result: More than 1.1 million students might have gotten an average of $3,400 more apiece in state and institutional grants had they filled out the FAFSA in the first three months. That’s because such funds may be apportioned on a first-come, first-served basis.

“Filing early could get you earlier responses about aid offers – meaning more time for you to make college decision pro/con lists,” Chatzky says.

If you or someone you know has been procrastinating on filling out the FAFSA, get going. Yes, I know it’s a pain: I did it first for my daughter and then for myself. But the chance at an additional $3,400 is worth a little torment.

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  1. When I get phone calls for charitable donations, my first question for the caller is “How much of my donation will go directly to the (insert charity here)?” The caller is required to answer you. Almost always the answer is 10% or less of what you donate. There is a better way to be charitable and not go through professional fund raisers. I don’t think this is a scam, but it is a surprise to know how little the organization actually gets

    • Donna Freedman

      I prefer to donate directly to the organization for that reason. Sure, the fundraisers bring in cash — and maybe from people the organization wouldn’t have been able to contact — but they keep a chunk of it for their trouble. This way, I know my money is going straight to the source.

  2. I contacted our local police force years ago after one of the police charities called us and they said not to use them and told us how to donate directly if we were so inclined.

    And the not leaving messages: I actually received a ton of calls on our landline over the course of months from a number I did not recognize. Never a voice mail. Finally one time I picked it up to yell (I was grumpy that day) and it turned out to be a college friend trying to reconnect who did not want to leave a message because she did not know if she had the right person! Now, however, if an unknown number calls more than once with no message I block them, despite that experience. There are just too many scam and junk calls.

  3. Kate Nelson

    I am shameless about my use of Caller ID. Unknown name, unknown number = unanswered phone call.
    One year I volunteered as a tax preparer, and when I got home from the office and checked voice mail, I had a message from someone with a *very* thick non-English accent telling me he was from the IRS and I had to pay up or go to jail. Couldn’t quit laughing over that one!

    • Donna Freedman

      A personal finance writer I know missed a call like that. She was disappointed, because she’d planned to keep the caller on the line for as long as possible in order to waste his time for as long as possible, and then say “I’m a PF writer, you jerk! I know this is a scam!”

  4. Carolina Cooper

    This message is very timely for me, as I received one of those robo calls on my cell phone this AM, from a 908 area code. I googled 908 and the rest of the number. There were various articles about scams from that number. Glad to see I am NOT the only one left in the world (in spite of what my adult children tell me) who does NOT have a smart phone. BTW, congrats on being on the (so far) winning, Gingerbread Heads team. I am a cupcake clique team member and we ARE giving you folks a run for your money. Let’s see how it all comes out on Friday!

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