The season of holiday shopping is upon us! And this year, it’s expected to be one of the biggest: The National Retail Federation predicts that American shoppers will spend a whopping $682 billion on retail purchases during the 2018 holidays alone.
But before you run home with your treasures, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) wants you to be on the lookout for what they call “The 12 Scams of Christmas.” These are the BBB’s tips on identifying and avoiding them:
Your email inbox is probably already overflowing with messages about sales, exclusive deals and gift ideas. Be careful when you’re sifting through them: While they may look legitimate, some may be designed to look like they’re from a retailer, but contain links to fake look-alike websites. These imposter messages and websites are meant to fool you into providing your private information or allowing scammers to download malware onto your computer.
When opening an email, always make sure to check the sender’s address, look for spelling or grammatical errors, hover over links before clicking on them to see where they lead, and don’t enter any personal information into a website that displays “http://” instead of “https://” at the beginning of its URL. (The “s” in “https://” means the website is secure.)
Don’t fall for invitations on social media to participate in gift exchanges that promise you’ll receive several gifts in exchange for a single purchase. This type of illegal scam is known as a pyramid scheme.
Grandparents, be wary of any messages you might receive claiming that your grandchild or family member has been arrested, is in the hospital, has been in an accident, or is in any other kind of trouble that requires you to send money or gift cards to resolve. More likely than not, a scammer is sending you the message, pretending to be your loved one.
If you’re worried, directly call the family member in question to find out if the message is true.
Some scammers like to take advantage of the fact that many businesses hire temporary employees during the holiday season, often posing as a business to collect personal information from people seeking holiday employment.
Always apply for a job you want in person or on the retailer’s official website, and don’t rush into giving your personal information to someone over the phone or online before an in-person interview. Also, any job that requires you to purchase software or equipment up front should raise a red flag.
Free gift card offers sound too good to be true, and they often are. If you get one of them in your email or in a pop-up add, it’s most likely a phishing attempt from a scammer trying to get a hold of your sensitive information.
You shouldn’t open emails like this when you receive them; but if you accidentally do, make sure not to click on any links. Instead, mark the message as spam. Likewise, don’t click on pop-up ads; instead, close out of the program or website you’re using, clear your browsing history and make sure your ad-blocking software is on. Whether the offer comes through an email or a pop-up ad, do not share your personal information in exchange for a “free gift card.”
Electronic holiday cards that are being sent by scammers can be easily mistaken for friendly ones. But if you look closely, there are a few ways you can tell the difference. E-cards sent by scammers usually:
If you’re shopping for gifts online, you can expect to receive delivery notifications via email throughout the holidays. But be careful: Scammers can disguise their phishing scams as shipping notifications too, using a legitimate business name and logo to trick you into providing your personal information.
Remember: Reputable online vendors provide tracking information you can use to check the status of your order, and you should not have to pay money or provide sensitive information to receive an item you have ordered.
During the season of giving, scammers can also manipulate those who hope to brighten the holidays of the less fortunate with generous donations. But you can protect yourself from a scammer who’s posing as a charity or needy individual to trick you into giving your money or personal information.
Be on the lookout for names that sound like legitimate charities, and always verify your charity of choice on Give.org before donating. You should also always review a charity’s website for more details on how your donation will be used.
While legitimate businesses that offer personalized letters from Santa do exist, there are also scammers out there who impersonate these businesses in order to dupe parents into giving away their sensitive information.
Think twice before responding to an unsolicited email that offers letters from Santa for a special price, and always check the BBB website to verify the company you’ve chosen is legitimate.
When you’re making a purchase, be cautious if someone asks you to pay for your item with an unusual form of payment—especially if it can’t be traced or returned to you—including prepaid debit/gift cards, wire transfers or third parties.
Holiday travel isn’t cheap, but resist the temptation to fall for unsolicited “bargain” deals that are scams in disguise. If you’re looking to book a trip, always be cautious with travel offers you receive via email, especially if you don’t know the sender/company. Never wire money to someone you don’t know, and don’t forget to ask for references.
Who wouldn’t like to find a puppy under the tree on Christmas morning? Unfortunately, scammers can also prey on those hoping to add a furry member to the family. They lure you in by posting a phony ad with a photo of an irresistibly cute puppy for a can’t-refuse price, in hopes that you’ll give up your money and personal credentials.
There are a few steps you can take to avoid falling victim to a puppy scam. First, do an online search of the puppy’s photo. If it pops up on multiple websites, the ad is most likely a scam. Also, make sure to do your research and know the true price range of the kind of dog you’re looking for, and stay away from advertisements that seem too good to be true. You can search the BBB website to verify breeders and shelters as well. Finally, don’t use a money order, Western Union or a Moneygram to pay for a new pet. Instead, prefer to use a credit card, which allows you to dispute potentially fraudulent charges.
Last but not least, if you come across one of these scams this holiday season, the BBB recommends you protect yourself by keeping a close eye on your financial statements, quickly disputing unrecognized charges, submitting a report to BBB Scam Tracker, and filing a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
To read BBB’s full “12 Scams of Christmas” article, please click here. For more information about the Better Business Bureau, please visit the BBB website.
This blog post was adapted from the article “The 12 Scams of Christmas: What to Look for and How to Avoid Them,” originally published by the Better Business Bureau.
The information in this blog consists of the opinions and ideas of the author alone and should be used for informational purposes only. VyStar Credit Union disclaims any liability for decisions you make based on the information provided.