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Watch out! Holiday scams are tricky this year

Be extra careful of scamsters during the holiday season.

Online international investment schemes promising unwitting investors outstanding returns, but instead causing tremendous personal monetary loss, abound.

Christmas tipping money
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Some even have names that sound legit. Remember the popular for ex-trading site SecureInvestment.com? Despite its name, it was anything but. The site vanished last year, taking what is estimated to be $1 billion of investors' money with it.

While stories like this may make headlines, countless scams, particularly holiday hoaxes which prey upon the kindness and vulnerabilities of people, go unnoticed until it's too late. The result: thousands become ill-fated victims.

In recent years, we've seen fake Santas, pretending to collect for charity, but taking cash themselves. There have even been scams where they offer to send letters to Santa for $20 – and then steal your credit-card information.

Myriad investment swindles are perpetrated across the globe by the thousands. What to do? Generally, avoid those that seek you out — online, by phone or in person.

Run for the hills if someone suggests: 1) There is little or no risk; 2) There is a need for secrecy; 3) The investment is too complex to understand; or 4) Your bank or credit card information is needed to continue the conversation. Never provide it — unless you are certain about the circumstances.

Online shopping is quick, cool and convenient — but it can be a world full of trouble if you click on a scam. Beware of copycat websites resembling famous-name companies.

They'll take your order,and most importantly your credit-card information, but no goods will be forthcoming, and credit-card information may be hastily used for illegal purchases.

There have also been reports of fake sites offering reduced travel or hotel rates. Beware with whom you do business — looking carefully at domain names atop your browser.

Discrepancies from the genuine name should be a roaring red flag. Likewise, most reputable retailers offer fulsome websites,including a "contact us" page. Most list physical addresses.

During this holiday season, people become frantic and frenzied. Scamsters count on it because it means appropriate due diligence is not conducted. Many fall victim to these holiday hoaxes and cons.

Be careful and don't let it happen to you, too.

Commentary by Bart Chilton, former commissioner at the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Chilton is currently a senior policy advisor at the global law firm DLA Piper, and author of "Ponzimonium: How Scam Artists are Ripping Off America."