Elder Justice Consumer Alert: Financial Safety During the Holidays


It’s that time of year again! The holiday season has begun, and unfortunately, scammers are ready to take advantage of your generosity.

Here are some tips to keep you and your money safe during the holidays:

Online Shopping

  • “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is:” Be careful of clicking on links offering too-good-to-be-true deals and bargains, particularly if they require you to provide personal or financial information to lock in a special price.
  • Problem with your purchase: If you receive an E-mail message from a merchant claiming there was a problem with a recent purchase, first, confirm this message is about a purchase you have actually made! A legitimate message from a merchant will include a purchase confirmation or reference number that should match your receipt. Always check the sender’s E-mail address! Make sure the E-mail address is from a merchant you know and trust by checking the name of the company after the @ symbol in the address.
  • Be extra careful – scammers are great at making E-mails look legitimate!

Grandparent Scams

Watch out for scammers pretending to be a grandchild or family member in trouble to tug on heartstrings to get your money. Scammers may identify your friends or family members from social media and use this information to trick you.

Here is an example: you receive a phone call. The caller says they are your friend or a family member, or a person helping that friend or family member, and they claim they are in trouble. The caller may be in another city, county, state, or even in another country. They could say they are in jail or got into a car accident. They may say, “Don’t tell Mom and Dad.” They may ask you to wire or send money urgently for bail, hospital bills, court fees, etc.

If you receive a call like this, remain calm. Contact mutual friends or family members for help; try contacting the friend or family member who is supposedly in trouble using a phone number, email address, or other contact information that you know. Never send money to anyone without confirming the identity of the friend or family member and that the situation is real, and be cautious about sending money to an unknown person in another city, state, or outside the country.


During this season of giving, many charitable organizations are looking for help and year-end donations. Meanwhile, this is also a huge opportunity for fraud. Online scammers often send E-mail messages and even create fake websites to collect money for charities that do not exist. Donate money only to organizations you know, and always double-check the sources of E-mail messages asking for your charitable contributions. Make sure the E-mail address is from an organization you know and trust by checking the name of the organization after the @ symbol in the address.

Take some additional steps before making a charitable donation:

  • Research a charity online through online independent sources like IRS Select Check, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, GuideStar, and the National Center for Charitable Statistics.
  • Although some charities are exempt by District statute and regulation from the requirement that they hold a charitable solicitation license, you can search and verify if a particular charity holds a charitable solicitation license:
    • Contact the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs: (202) 442-4400
    • Use DCRA’s Scout Portal at https://scout.dcra.dc.gov/login
  • Search the charity’s name online with the words “scam” or “complaint.” See what other people say about it.

Gift Cards

Gift cards are convenient ways to gift money or store credit to friends and family members during the holidays. Be suspicious and vigilant of any person, merchant or organization who asks you for payment in gift cards. For example, some scammers will ask you to purchase multiple store gift cards in high dollar amounts. They will then ask you to provide the codes on the back of the gift cards for them to take the money. Once the gift cards are purchased, the transaction is final, and your money is gone for good. Remember, legitimate businesses and government offices will never ask you to pay fees, fines or any other money by gift cards!

Lottery scams

Who doesn’t like winning a cash prize? Playing the lottery locally is safe, but anyone promising lottery rewards from another country is fibbing. Scammers hoping to lure you in with extra money for holiday shopping may try to convince you you’ve won a huge cash prize. You’ll know it’s a scam if any of the following is true:

  • The lottery and the prize are in another country.
  • To cash in on your prize, you must provide personal banking information or pay money up front toward taxes and/or customs. 
  • “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!”

How to get help

If you have been the victim of a scam in the District, reach out for help from friends and family members. The District has the following resources and places to report financial abuse:

  • Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia Elder Justice Hotline: (202) 727-3807 or E-mail: ElderJustice@dc.gov
  • Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia Office of Consumer Protection Hotline: (202) 727-3400 or E-mail: Consumer.Protection@dc.gov
  • Federal Trade Commission Report Fraud Website: https://www.reportfraud.ftc.gov/
  • District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department Financial Crimes and Fraud Unit: (202) 727-4159
  • District of Columbia Adult Protective Services 24-Hour Hotline: (202) 541-3950