Avoid being scammed this holiday season

LOS ANGELES These seven are the most popular but there are plenty more scams out there, especially during the holidays. Consumers have to stay one step ahead of the thieves, whether you're shopping online or waiting for something to be shipped to your home.

Fast-paced, stressed-out, high-spending times of the holidays combine to make it the season for scams.

More shoppers than ever will find their deals online, and thieves are watching. Scambusters.org says the fastest growing online scam is setting up bogus websites offering hard-to-find gifts at bargain prices. Avoid that by only shopping on sites you know and names you trust.

"Phishing" e-mails are a common way for hackers to get your personal information. A frequent trick is to e-mail a link to a fake PayPal account. PayPal's Claudia Lombana has some advice.

"If you receive an e-mail from PayPal we're always going to use your first and last name, as opposed to a scam or any kind of a fraudulent e-mail you receive which may be addressed to 'dear PayPal user,'" said Lombana.

And Lombana says the PayPal website has ways you can report suspicious e-mail.

Be careful buying tickets for events, shows, sports and concerts this time of year. Crooks target ads in newspapers and people outside the venue itself. If you do buy from a person, get their phone number, home address and check out where they work before you hand over the money.

Seasonal jobs can also be a hazard to your bank account. Spammers are sending out e-mails promising jobs that really don't exist. Never hand over money when hired to do a job. Even legitimate companies that earn their money from finding employees get their fees from employers, not employees.

Be on guard even in your own home. A new scam this year: the parcel-waiting trick. You get a card through your door saying an unsuccessful attempt was made to deliver a package, and to call a number for details. You pick up the phone, get a recorded message that keeps you on the line for a while. In fact, you've connected to a premium line and you'll be charged exorbitant rates. So, before you dial, check out the name of the company on the Internet. If it's not a 1-800 number, it may be scam.

This is also prime time for charities and people posing as charities. Beware of phony signs, badges, e-mails and websites. If you're not sure, send a check in the mail to the charity of your choice.

One more scam: letters from Santa Claus. There are many companies that say they will send an official-looking letter from Santa to your kids, but some are fake. So do your research before doing business with them.

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