If you have kids, then you’re probably already participating in one of the least-beloved annual rituals: back-to-school shopping.
I’m not saying that from my perspective, as a guy. (We don’t like any kind of shopping, generally speaking, unless it involves buying something with wheels or remote controls.)
I’ve never met anyone who looks forward to back-to-school shopping. Children excluded, of course.
And yet, amid all that dutiful shopping for textbooks, fall clothes and lunchboxes, we find our old adversaries — the scammers of the world.
Back-to-school season is a great time to pull a fast one, because shoppers have their brains partially disengaged, going through all the motions reflexively as they scan the never-ending list of required school supplies.
Is this a perfect opening for the bad guys? Yes, when you consider the average person with children in grades K-12 will spend $688.62 on their children, up from $603.63 last year, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s a total of $30.3 billion.
This is the time of year when those completely ridiculous offers to save money at your favorite big-box retailer cross your computer screen — or your smartphone screen.
Among the favorites: The Walmart “smishing” scam, a text message referring you to a site where you can “claim a Walmart gift card” by entering certain private personal information.
I mention the Walmart scam because it’s a favorite for back-to-school shopping and because the retailer has posted a prominent warning about the scam, but it can happen with any store.
The next scam could be a knock at your door. Everyone from the Boy Scouts to the high school football team might come calling, asking for a donation.
One business owner in Corpus Christi, TX., recently fell for such a pitch, to the tune of $10,000. That’s right — $10,000.
If you don’t recognize the person asking for money, and have misgivings about giving a stranger money, then don’t feel guilty about saying “no.”
If it’s a legit charity, you should be able to ask for a contact address or a website where you can make a donation later.
But above all, don’t feel pressured to donate anything just because someone in uniform is standing in front of your door. Always do your homework before giving.
Books for sale
Speaking of door-to-door, charities aren’t the only ones who will ring your bell. Here’s the remarkable story of scam artists pretending to be school district employees in Fenton, MO., who were fraudulently selling workbooks and gathering information from parents door-to-door.
The school district released a notice on its website Tuesday saying parents were reporting “door-to-door salesmen” who “falsely represent themselves by saying they work for Lindbergh School District” to sell workbooks and gather information. Turns out, the unsuspecting parents were scammed.
Bogus offers from your school
Our kids — I have three of them — bring home all kinds of offers from school. School districts and teachers tend to pile it on during the first few weeks, and sorting through them can be a nightmare.
Which ones come from the school? Which ones are from a school partner, like a textbook publisher?
Here again, being careful can keep you from paying for something that is either unnecessary or just a plain rip-off.
Parents sometimes think that just because it’s in a child’s folder, it’s from the school. Not necessarily.
I won’t dwell on this one, since I just covered it in a post. But your child’s personal information is at risk, and perhaps at no time more than now.
Think about it: With all the forms being filled out, what are the chances that your son or daughter’s name, date of birth and social security number might fall into the wrong hands?
To protect their identities, make sure you’re only giving sensitive information to the people who really need it — not to anyone who asks.
Look, back-to-school shopping is stressful enough. Don’t make it any worse by getting scammed this year.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.