It’s easy to get so caught up in holiday activities that you leave yourself open to potential scams. BBB advises consumers to stay alert during the holiday season to avoid falling prey to scammers poised to pounce on careless or overburdened shoppers.
“While the rest of us are checking off items on our gift lists, scammers are blowing the dust off of their tried and true holiday scams,” says Rosalind Scott, President & CEO of BBB serving Vancouver Island. “By being vigilant, consumers can help turn holiday scams into ghosts of Christmases past.”
These five common scams can strike at the mall, online or even in your email.
1. Online shopping scams: Everyone loves a great deal, but some websites offer electronics or luxury goods at prices that are too good to be true. Every holiday season, BBB hears from holiday shoppers who paid for a “great deal” online, but received little or nothing in return.
BBB advice: Always look for the BBB seal when shopping online and click on it to confirm that it’s legitimate. If you’re shopping on sites that aren’t household names, check out their BBB Business Reviews at www.vi.bbb.org. Confirm that the company has a physical address and telephone number. Any pages where you enter personal or financial information should have https:// at the beginning of the address or URL.
2. Online ads for hot toys and gadgets: When stores sell out, you may find the items online at sites like Craigslist or eBay— but for a much steeper price. Some sellers will take your money and run, leaving you without the gift or money to buy it elsewhere.
BBB Advice: If you shop on Craigslist or other classified sites, look for local sellers and conduct transactions in person. Bring a friend if you’re uncomfortable meeting the seller alone. Never wire money as payment. If you’re shopping on auctions like eBay, research sellers extensively and don’t buy if the deal sounds too good to be true.
3. Identity theft at the mall: While you’re struggling with bags of presents, identity thieves may see an opportunity to steal your wallet or look over your shoulder to copy your debit or credit card numbers.
BBB Advice: Don’t let yourself get bogged down in purchases or lose track of your wallet. Know where your credit and debit cards are at all times and cover the keypad when entering your pin number while purchasing items or getting money from an ATM. Make sure you put your card back in your wallet after each purchase.
4. Bogus charitable pleas: The holidays are a time of giving, and that creates an opportunity for scammers to solicit donations to line their own pockets. Beware of solicitations from charities that don’t necessarily deliver on their promises or are ill-equipped to carry through on their plans. Resist demands for on-the-spot donations.
BBB Advice: Always research charities with BBB before you give to see if the charity meets the BBB’s 20 Standards for Charity Accountability. Up-to-date reports on thousands of local and national charities are available at www.bbb.org/charity.
5. Phishing emails: Phishing emails are a common way for hackers to get at your personal information or break into your computer. Around the holidays, beware of e-cards and messages pretending to be from companies like UPS, Federal Express or major retailers with links to package tracking information.
BBB Advice: Don’t click on any links or open any attachments to emails until you have confirmed that they are not malicious. Some emails can infect your computer with a virus or download malware if you click a link. Email addresses that don’t match up, typos and grammatical mistakes are common red flags of a malicious phishing email. Also beware of unsolicited emails from companies with which you have no association. Make sure you have current antivirus software and that all security patches have been installed on the computer.