Every year has a new “it” toy. There’s always something so awesome, it just has to get under the tree. These toys are flying off the shelves faster than retailers can stock them, setting up an incredibly inflated secondhand market. People are willing to pay two or three times the retail price just to get whatever it is that’s sparked national attention.

Criminals are taking advantage of parents’ desire to make the holidays memorable for their children. In many cases, scammers set up fake Facebook pages, Instagram sites and Twitter profiles offering the must-have toy “giveaways” to people who followed them and downloaded a “fan app.” Of course, there were no toys being given away. Worse yet, the fan app was a piece of malware that stole personal information and transmitted it to scammers. If you’re toy hunting, be cautious. Practice these tips for safe searching.

1.) Never download anything you don’t need

The fastest way into a house isn’t through a broken window. It’s through the front door. The same is true for your computer. It takes serious sophistication to break modern encryption protocols and steal personal information from an internet user. It’s far easier to get them to send the information directly to you, and the easiest way to do that is to trick them into installing something on their computer.

Before you click any download link, ask yourself three questions.

1)    Do I know the company that produced this software?

2)    Do I trust the person who sent me the link?

3)    Do I need this software for my daily life?

If the answer to any of those questions is “no,” then close the browser. If you’re not sure who’s at the door, you don’t open it. If you have any doubt about the safety of a piece of software, don’t download it. These rules apply n matter what device you’re using. Your mobile device has just as much personally identifiable information on it as your desktop computer does; safeguard both!

2.) Double-check when shopping online

Many scammers have gone a more conventional route to stealing money. They promise goods, take the money for an order, then don’t deliver the goods. While this is a common scam most times of the year, the insanity of holiday shopping makes consumers more vulnerable.

Somewhat more insidiously, some scammers have been posting “black market” hot toys. Factory defects are being sold at many times more than retail prices. Such practices are even occurring on reputable websites such as Amazon and eBay. The best way to check against this practice is to look at reviews for the account. If someone’s selling a hot new toy but they’ve never sold anything before, it’s a good bet they’re running some kind of con.

If you decide you absolutely have to shop the secondhand market, try to deal locally. Never send or wire payment through unsecured means, like a cashier’s check or wire transfer. Try to meet your buyer in a public place and always inspect the goods before handing over the money.

3.) Read the reviews before the hype

Despite the popularity, many parents who got their hands on the hot toy of the season are disappointed. Talk to your children about what they really want for the holidays. It may be they want something entirely different. Don’t assume the popularity of a toy will translate directly into joyful memories around the holiday tree. Find something your children will really treasure. They and your pocketbook will thank you!

Don’t forget that the best things about the season don’t come from toy stores. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to build great holiday memories. You just need to spend time together! Happy Holidays!

Copyright© 2018, SDFCU.org