Expert Advice: Tips & Tools for Scam-Free Holidays

By T-Mobile StoriesDecember 05, 2023

The holidays are one of the busiest times of the year for scammers. Here, we asked Identity Theft expert Carrie Kerskie for her tips on how you can steer clear of con artists and help keep yourself safe.

Scammers go into overdrive during the holiday season, using all sorts of tactics like fake gift cards, charities, deals and more to get you to give them your money or information. In fact, according to AARP, a whopping 76 percent of consumers experienced a scam in one form or another last holiday season. Thankfully, identity theft protection expert Carrie Kerskie is on your side. When it comes to identity theft, fraud and cyber threats, she’s seen it all — and then some.

Based in Naples, Florida, Kerskie is president of leading identity theft restoration and consulting company Kerskie Group, as well as author of the book Your Public Identity: Because Nothing is Private Anymore and the self-help guide Protect Your Identity. She is also the host of a new podcast, “Privacy Mentor,” which is aimed at further informing consumers on how to keep themselves — and their identity — safe from scammers.

Here, we asked Kerskie for her top tips on how to identify scammers as well as her thoughts on some of the tools you can use to keep yourself and loved ones safe, especially during the holidays.

What are some general steps all of us can take to be vigilant against scammers and other threats?

  • Prioritize Privacy: If it’s easy for you, it’s easy for a criminal. Privacy means having strong and unique passwords with a minimum of 12 characters, and for pins using random numbers and taking advantage of extra security. Enabling multi-factor authentication on your various apps and accounts will also protect yourself from potential threats.
  • Use Available Resources: Take advantage of the free anti-fraud safeguards offered by your mobile carrier. In the case of T-Mobile's Scam Shield, services include enhanced caller ID, scam ID and blocking, which flags suspicious calls and gives customers the option of blocking those numbers.
  • Validate or Eliminate: Whatever potential threat you come across via email, text message, letter or even a phone call, try to validate the information. If you cannot confirm the information is true or confirm a sender’s validity, throw it away, block the phone number or email address and report it as spam or junk mail.

What are some of the main signs that a call is from a scammer?
Every single phone scam we’ve seen has the same formula:

  • Primero, hay una sensación de urgencia. El estafador insistirá: "Tienes que hacer esto ahora mismo. No puedes cortar. No puedes devolver la llamada. ¡Hay que hacerlo de inmediato, en este momento!"
  • Segundo: hay una consecuencia".If you don’t do this right now, you’re going to go to jail. Si no lo haces ahora mismo, no volverás a ver a tus seres queridos. Si no haces esto ahora mismo, vamos a cancelar tu número de seguro social. Si no haces esto ahora mismo, vamos a arrestarte". Esa sensación de urgencia y de consecuencias muy graves, incluso cuando sabemos que las cosas no son así. Si realmente se trata de tu banco o del IRS o la Administración de Seguridad Social, se comunicarán por correo común. Se comunicarán por email. Habrá más de una llamada.
  • Tercero, piden algo específico que, la mayoría de las veces, es un pago. Si escuchas las palabras "tarjeta de regalo, Westrn Union o transferencia bancaria", corta la llamada. Es así de simple. Ninguna organización, especialmente las agencias del gobierno, acepta tarjetas de regalo como forma de pago. If anybody says, “go to the store and buy me gift cards,” hang up the phone. No participes. No te "diviertas" con ellos. Si participas de la conversación telefónica, van a marcarte como un "conversador" y te van a llamar nuevamente con otra estafa o harán que te llame alguien con un poco más de habilidad para estafarte. No participes para nada, simplemente corta la llamada.
  • Just remember that not all scam calls have these three red flags. If the caller offers to check your computer, or device, or says your device is infected, hang up. These types of scams install remote access software, giving the scammer control over your device from anywhere in the world at any time. They can also access everything on your computer, including your browsing history, bookmarks, and passwords stored in your web browser.

What about scammers using text messages?
We're seeing so many smishing texts - the text equivalent of the now age-old phishing email. Por experiencia propia, puedo decir que, no hace mucho, recibía uno de esos cada seis meses. Ahora estoy recibiendo dos por día.

There is a new tactic where scammers just randomly text people and see who they can engage in conversation, hoping they're going to get a lonely person on the phone. You might get a text message, and the person's like, "Oh, I'm sorry, I must have the wrong number" - and then they start a conversation. They befriend you and then the next thing you know, they're asking for personal information or money.

For text messages, do not click on any links and do not reply. Don't even type the word S-T-O-P. We used to tell people to type that, and that would supposedly stop the messages, definitely for legitimate companies. When you do it to a scammer, you're telling them there's a live person at the end of this number who responds to text messages. So, don't even do that.

Ya que estamos: los clientes pueden reenviar mensajes de texto sospechosos al 7726 para poder detectar los mensajes de smishing.

What other tools are available for people to help keep themselves safe from scammers?
Like I mentioned earlier, Scam ID and Scam Block are great protections. También me encanta el número PROXY de T-Mobile que te permite tener un segundo número telefónico. Me parece genial. Pienso que es un gran aporte. Los números de teléfono se están volviendo equivalentes a tu número de seguro social, excepto que dondequiera que vayas, te lo piden.

Al poder poner ese segundo número cuando te lo pidan, puedes proteger tu número principal y solo compartirlo con tus familiares, amigos, el consultorio de tu médico y en transacciones financieras, porque los bancos usarán ese número de teléfono para verificar tu identidad.

Lastly, criminals can try to access your information in settings like coffee shops or libraries using public Wi-Fi. A laptop or smartphone using public Wi-Fi can easily fall victim to scams. So, use your mobile hotspot on your phone or buy a separate hotspot device and use that because it’s more of a secured connection. I highly recommend that you use the data on your mobile phone plan and turn your phone into your own wireless network instead of using anything out in public.