The 2017 Thanksgiving weekend saw a million more Americans than last year out shopping - and the holiday spending is just beginning. The National Retail Federation expects this year’s holiday retail sales to top last year’s by up to 4 percent, and could reach $682 billion. As shoppers set records on spending, the Better Business Bureau serving Central East Texas urges consumers to be prepared for scammers looking to take a bit of your holiday cheer.
The BBB shares the 12 Scams of Christmas and ways to avoid and identify them:
1. Look-Alike Websites - Many consumers will see an increase in the number of email alerts announcing deals, gifts and sales. While mailers can look legitimate, the links may lead to look-alike websites meant to trick you into entering private information or give scammers an opportunity to download malware onto your computer. To protect themselves, consumers should:
- Review the sender’s address, as businesses will often send emails with a proprietary address, like @bbb.org.
- Look for misspellings throughout the email.
- Hover over links without clicking to see where they reroute.
- Only enter sensitive information into a website that begins with “https” as the “s” informs you that it’s secure and information entered is encrypted.
2. Gift Exchanges - Purchasing one gift and receiving several in return may sound like a harmless way to give and receive presents, but this seasonal scam is a pyramid scheme, which is illegal.
3. Grandparent Scams - Scammers target seniors posing as a grandchild or other family member and claim they have been in an accident, arrested, hospitalized or another urgent issue. The circumstance often requires money be sent immediately to resolve. Targets should:
- Verify the situation by calling the family member in question directly.
- Check with other family members to see if the claims are true. (Be wary if you’re asked to wire money or send gift cards in place of making a payment with a credit card.)
4. Temporary Holiday Jobs - Many businesses require a little extra help with the holiday rush and often seek temporary employees, but beware of fraudsters who attempt to glean personal information from applicants. Job seekers trying to avoid this scam should:
- Apply for to the job in person or by going directly to the retailer’s website (not following links).
- Be wary of anyone requiring you to hand over personal information over the phone or online before meeting for an interview.
- Be suspicious of a job that requires you to pay for equipment or software upfront.
5. Free Gift Cards - Who doesn’t love free stuff especially around the holidays? Scammers hope to take advantage of that fondness through phishing emails and pop-up ads offering gift cards. If you come across one of these offers, you should not:
- Open the email as it can be a phishing attempt, but if you do, don’t click the links. Instead, mark the email as SPAM or JUNK.
- Share any personal information to receive the card as the scammers will use the information to steal your identity later.
- Click the ad but close out of the app or program you are using, clear your history and turn on your ad blocker.
6. E-Cards - Christmas cards are sent out this time of year, and while some friends and family may be going high-tech by using e-cards, so are scammers. Spot a friendly e-card from a scam by looking for:
- Whether or not the sender’s name is easily visible.
- Be wary if you are required to enter personal information to open the card.
- Avoid opening any suspicious email, but if you do and see an attachment that ends in “.exe,” which indicates an execute command and could download a virus, do not open it.
7. Fake Shipping Notifications - Deliveries notifications can often be expected throughout the holiday season as many consumers go online to purchase gifts, but some of these announcements may be phishing scams. These false notification emails often use a legitimate businesses name and logo to trick you into opening the email and allowing thieves to gain access to personal information and passwords. Targets should know:
- Most online vendors provide tracking information that can be used to verify where your items are and identify the delivery company.
- You are not required to pay money to receive your package; that payment was made when you make your purchase.
- Delivery services do not need personal information to deliver your items.
8. Phony Charities - Charities often get a boost this season as consumers are in the giving spirit, but scammers can pose as charities or needy individuals soliciting donations. Here are a few tips for spotting scammers:
- Look for sound-alike names.
- Verify Your Charity at Give.org.
- Review the charities’ websites to make sure they specify their plans for donations and how they will be used to address the issues they claim to combat.
9. Letters From Santa - Many legitimate businesses offer personalized letters from Santa, but some copycat scammers are only looking to glean personal information from unsuspecting parents.
- Be suspicious of unsolicited emails offering special prices or packages for letters from Santa.
- Check bbb.org to verify the legitimacy of any company that offers letters from Santa.
10. Unusual Forms of Payments - When making your holiday purchases, be wary of anyone asking for a strange form of payment as they often can’t be traced or undone. These may include:
- Prepaid debit or gift cards.
- Wire Transfers.
- Third parties.
11. Travel Scams - Traveling for the holidays can get expensive, and bargains may be tempting, but some offers may be scams that end up costing you more instead of helping you save. To avoid travel scams consumers should:
- Be cautious when it comes to email offers, especially if it is from an unknown sender or company.
- Never wire money to someone you don’t know.
- Ask for references.
12. Puppy Scams - While a year-round issue, puppy scams hurt families seeking to add a family member to their household for the holidays. Puppy scams are often difficult to avoid as cute pictures and good deals pull at the heartstrings and wallet. To prevent this fraud, consumers should:
- Do an image search online of the photo given of your pet. If multiple websites pop up, it’s probably a scam.
- Know what prices to expect because if the cost seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Search bbb.org for accredited breeders and rescue shelters.
- Never pay using a money order or via the Western Union or Moneygram. Instead, use a credit card, which will give you the added protection of being able to dispute the charges.
If you come across any of these scams this holiday season help protect yourself and others by:
- Keeping a close eye on your financial statements and quickly dispute any unrecognized charges.
- Submitting a report to BBB Scam Tracker.
- Filing a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
For more tips on how to be a savvy consumer, go to bbb.org. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, please call the BBB at 903-581-5704 or use BBB ScamTracker.