Gather 'round the fire everyone.

Bring your mugs of steaming hot chocolate and cozy blankets. It's time for a story. One that includes naughty elves, an unsuspecting shopper, two generous givers, cold-hearted schemes, and a lump of coal – or two.

The crafty elves in our story used magic to appear at just the "right time" in a person's life.

Don't worry. Our story will leave you feeling merry and bright. This tale recounts a few lessons learned over the past year sure to help you and your loved ones avoid scams this holiday season.

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time, there was a group of naughty elves. They had a plan to steal holiday joy, credit card numbers, and bank account details. These elves weren't your ordinary bunch of crooks. While they didn't hide behind dark glasses or an oversized hat, you wouldn't recognize them if you saw one walking down the street. Actually, they look and sound a lot like your family, friends, and neighbors. And sometimes, they acted even friendlier.

The crafty elves in our story used magic to appear at just the "right time" in a person's life. This year they targeted millions of people. Three of them, David Spender, Olivia Sales, and Karly Credit have a very special message they'd like everyone to hear.

(Clears throat before reading from a holiday scroll )

David Spender says, "My message to holiday shoppers is - watch out for delivery scams. I got a phony "missed delivery" notice taped to my front door. When I called the number, I had to give them my credit card information before they would reschedule delivery. But, guess what? There was no delivery. It was all fake."

Olivia Sales admits, "I made the mistake of giving to a charity without checking them out online. I only recently learned about watchdog websites like Charity Navigator and Charity Watch. Before giving to a non-profit, check them out first. If I'd done that, I wouldn't have given money to a phony organization that had a name similar to a national medical research hospital."

Karly Credit recommends that you " wary of urgent requests for money from friends or family down on their luck this season. I had a friend tell me via social media she needed money. It turned out it wasn't my friend who messaged me. It was a fraudster who'd hacked my account and was pretending to be one of my connections. I sent the money before I confirmed with my friend that it wasn't her after all."

While David, Olivia, and Karly recovered the funds from these scams, few are as fortunate. Stay safe this holiday season by:

  • Keeping record of your online transactions and expected deliveries
  • Doing your research before giving to a charitable organization
  • Verifying monetary requests from family and friends
  • Paying for purchases with a major credit card that offers fraud protection

Oh, yes – and all the crooks went to jail, and David, Olivia, and Karly lived (financially) happily ever after. The end!

Do You Suspect a Holiday Scam?

Put a lump of coal in the stockings of naughty elves by reporting them to the Federal Trade Commission and contacting local law enforcement. If the suspected fraud involves your bank account or credit card, contact your financial institution immediately. They will let you know what can be done to secure your account and possibly get your money back.