The holidays are a time for joy and peace throughout the world. It is a time for us to reflect and be thankful for the good things and people we have in our lives. It is also the time that people tend to be the most generous and giving to those less fortunate. To help someone in need without expecting anything in return is an exceptional act of kindness.

Unfortunately, there are also people in this world who know the generosity that exist in the hearts of many, and these unscrupulous people come up with tricks to take advantage of that kindness. Whether it is posing as a charity or making you an offer you can't refuse, everyone needs to be alert and protect themselves from fraud and scams. Of course, it is wise to be on guard ALL the time, not just during the holidays. But fraud and schemes seem to heighten during the holiday season. Below are some ways people cheat and what to watch out for.

Telephone scams – a very common way to solicit for money and prey on the generosity of unsuspecting victims. It doesn't take much for a crook to call up a stranger and ask them to donate to a local or national charity. They say it's easy; just provide them with credit card or bank information and a child will be fed or cancer will be cured. Do NOT give these people any information! Most legitimate charities do not cold call. If the charity sounds like a cause you would like to donate to, do the research yourself online, but do not give the people any information over the phone, especially when they don't have a phone number that shows up on caller ID.

Email scams – preventing fraud through email is even easier than hanging up a telephone. Again, don't trust the email…do the research yourself. And don't click on any links! Links could lead to fake sites that are designed to steal your identity and your money, or exposure to malware and viruses.

In person – as shopping is higher during the holiday season, so is fraud. People standing outside of stores or along streets pretend to be a legitimate organization asking for cash donations. Although your bank account information or identity aren't in danger, your cash is. Don't be afraid to ask questions if you think they aren't honest.

People in trouble – There are two common scams in my area that I run into at least once a year. The first one is a man walking down the street alone. He tells a story about how his car broke down (always somewhere out of sight) and his pregnant/sick/hungry wife/child/mother is in the car. He asks for money for cab fare to get her to the hospital. The first time it happened I gave cash to the man because I believed his story, but when it happened again and again (from different men, no less!) I either ignored them or offered to call a tow truck or policeman to help him. Usually they just walk away after that.

The second one is similar, only this time it is usually a person or persons waiting around in a parking lot with a car. The car usually has the hood up to make it look like they are having car trouble. These people talk fast and will not accept help to fix the car, only cash for repairs or a cab. This has happened twice to my husband and me, and when my husband offered a jump or to see what was wrong with the engine, they refused the help and emphasized they only needed cash. Although it's only happened twice to us, I have seen similar setups around town.

It is sad that there are people everywhere that are suffering, and it is sickening that there are others who exploit that suffering. By using caution and researching the charities and organizations that you wish to give to, you can rest assured that you are preventing fraud and your money is being used wisely and how you intended.