The holiday shopping season is already getting into full swing, and that means rip-offs are also on the rise - both in stores and online.
On "The Early Show," CBS News Business and Economics Correspondent Rebecca Jarvis told viewers what to watch out for - how thieves try to separate you from your money, and what you can do to try to keep from falling prey to them by outsmarting the bad guys.
Some old scams are still prevalent today, Jarvis says. And thieves are increasingly using online tools to defraud you. The Internet Crime Complaint Center reported a 22 percent rise in complaints last year alone.
In general, Jarvis urges, be careful and be aware that these scams are out there. The holiday shopping season is primetime for scammers, because they feed off the excitement and increased interest in shopping the season brings. Always, always read the fine print. Review all your credit card and checking account statements carefully.
A skimmer is a device that thieves attach to ATM machines or gas pumps to steal your debit account number and information. Even though skimmers have been around for years, their use is increasing and they're becoming increasingly sophisticated. Avoiding them is difficult, because you never know which machines have them. One main tip is that you should always use bank ATMs, and avoid those non-bank, side-of-the-street ATM machines. Also try to use credit cards as much as possible. If your information is stolen on a credit card, it's a lot easier to get that money back.
Smishing is a new scam in which you get a short text message on your cell phone. It usually asks you to call a specific toll-free number. It's answered by a fake automated message. They're trying to get your account information. How do you avoid it? Never call a number you don't know already. If you get a text with an 800-number, call your bank or go to your bank and verify that it's legitimate. If you get a text alert about a bank account, first verify that the source is legit before you give any information. Call the customer service number of your bank to make sure the text was justifiable.
Membership programs are those pop-up ads or banners that come up right before or after you purchase an item online. They're usually somewhat related to your purchase, but you can tell they're from an outside party. They usually try to rope you into some special trial period of some product when, in reality, they are scamming you. According to ShopSmart magazine, "The programs often provide a 30-day trial period during which you get discounts on a variety of merchandise and services. After that, a monthly membership fee, usually $10 to $20, will appear on your credit-card bill, even though you never gave that outside company your card number." Jarvis says this one has become such a problem that West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller launched an investigation into the companies that sell these memberships. So avoid them entirely. Be careful what you click and what you agree to join when purchasing an item online. Read the fine print! And if you think you accidentally signed up for one, the membership programs usually send you an e-mail enabling you can cancel your membership.
These days, when thieves get hold of your information, they rarely spend huge amounts of money, because they're afraid of getting caught. So instead, they make very small charges, say, ten, twenty cents. You might not even notice the charges because they're so small. The Federal Trade Commission uncovered a crime ring using this scam this past June -- and the thieves racked up about $10 million in bogus charges. Watch out for these small charges. Scrutinize every item on your bill, and look out for small, seemingly harmless charges. If you find one, report it to your credit card company immediately.