Holiday Scams You Should Avoid
It’s the holiday season. That also means it is scamming season. Americans are going to spend $700 million this year on holiday shopping, according to the National Retail Federation. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) realizes this and warns consumers of the dangers of costly scams during the holidays.
Holiday scams are nothing new. In the past these included the “bump and grab,” where a stranger bumps into an unsuspecting shopper and grabs their purse or wallet and are gone before their victim realizes they’ve been robbed. The most vulnerable to these are senior citizens, people with limited budgets and those looking for a bargain.
Today, holiday scams have gone high tech in the form of online virtual scams. TrustedSec, a cybercrime investigations firm whose clients include major U.S. retailers, released the following statement: “During this time, we’re seeing a 317 percent increase in these attacks, compared to the average month.”
Here are 10 online scams the BBB and others want consumers to be aware of.
This is the time of year when we are moved to give to different causes to support those who are without or people who have faced some devastation and need the help of strangers to rebuild their lives. With the fires in California and hurricanes in Florida and Puerto Rico, expect to see an increase crowdfunding sites created by individuals claiming to raise money for a person or family. Some of these are legit, others are the work of scammers seeking to capitalize on the spirit of giving that is characteristic of the season.
To protect your wallet, ask if you know the people for whom the site is established. If not, do you know the people sharing the site? If you are unsure, reserve your giving to known entities that help those in distress like your local soup kitchen, the Salvation Army, churches, the Red Cross and others that provide financial assistance and services.
2. Fake Notifications
These scams are an phishing expedition with the goal of luring unsuspecting consumers into opening the email to see what their “gift” is. When they do, the gift they’re given is akin to finding coal in a Christmas stocking. Phishers put malware on your computer when the email is opened and the malware allows them to see into your search history or if you do your banking or shopping online and save passwords, they will have access to this. To guard against this particular scam, if it isn’t a business you have used in the past, DO NOT OPEN it. Let people know that if they send you a virtual gift or send you an e-card to let you know in advance and from what retailer they should be expecting notification from and an approximate date of when you can expect an alert.
3. Fake Charities
‘Tis the season for giving and scammers know this. What better way to profit on the kindness and goodwill of others than to set up a fake online charity? Anyone with a computer, tablet or smartphone can set up a basic website and fake charity to relieve you of your dividends. This is one of the easiest online scams to get away with because many small donations lead to big profits. Protect yourself by doing basic research. You can easily look up a charity on any of the nonprofit checkers online. Also, if a charity says it is a nonprofit entity, that is a designation bestowed by the IRS and consumers can check an organization’s status online, as well. If the organization does not appear, it is likely a fraud and you should avoid sending money. Instead, you can find a host of local charities to donate to. Each state keeps track of the charities legally operating within state lines. Check these records before making a donation. If an entity isn’t found anywhere, it is likely a scam and you should report it to the BBB and other local officials.
4. Buy One, Get Many
We all love a deal and any offer that gives us a return on an investment is a deal worth looking into. However, if it sounds too good to be true, it more than likely is a scam. Some scammers have spoofed legitimate corporate sites and buy a domain using the brand name of which you are familiar, but with a something other than the customary .com domain (examples end in: .net, .org, .eu). Oftentimes, these offers are for gift cards or gift certificates. Who wouldn’t want to buy one Starbucks $50 gift card and get 10 $50 gift cards for free. They make great gifts for teachers or for that unexpected guest for whom you need a quick last minute gift on hand. These are often not legitimate offers. Consumers pay for the gift card that they may not get, expecting the 10 or so others they definitely won’t get. The best way to guard against this scam is to not partake. There are merchants that do offer a few free gift cards of significantly smaller amounts. However, many of these are in-store offers and require a purchase of some kind in addition to the gift card the company uses to offset the cost of the freebies.
5. “Secret Sister” Facebook Scam
It is a social media pyramid scheme that targets women in a version of the “Secret Santa” gift exchange that is common in the workplace and large families. This year’s appeal reads:
“SECRET SISTER is back! I am looking for 6 or more ladies interested in a holiday gift exchange. Doesn’t matter where you live – you are welcome to join. You have to buy one gift valued of at least $10 and send it to your secret sis. (Hello, Amazon!) you will then receive 6-36 gifts in return. This is so much fun! I loved sending a gift to a complete stranger knowing that she would have a bright spot in her day because of what I sent. Let me know if you’re interested, and I will send you information about your sister. We could all use some happy mail! Who’s in? I tagged a few I thought might be interested, but anyone is welcome to join the fun! Just comment ‘I’m in’.”
Not only is it illegal to operate a pyramid scheme through the U.S. Postal service, hackers can get access to your banking and credit card information, and it also violates Facebook’s community standards – which could lead to you having your account suspended or deleted. These are largely shared as posts or private messages. Save yourself the expenses and the hassle by just bypassing or ignoring posts that include this request and let those who do post it know that the “Secret Sister” gift exchange is a scam.
If you are still unsure as to whether or not that online ask is a scam or not, check the BBB Scam Tracker, they keep a record of various scams year-round and how much people have lost with each attempt.
Have you come across a Holiday Scam yet? Comment below and let us know your thoughts. Want to keep them private? Shoot us an email to Outreach@
About the Author: Aisha K. Staggers is a writer, lecturer, and co-host and producer of “All Our Own” radio show and podcast and co-host of “Staggers State of Things” on the Dr. Vibe Show. Her work has been featured on MTV News, HuffPost, Blavity, Atlanta Blackstar, For Harriet, New York Review of Books and a host of other first-run publications and syndicated outlets. Find her on Twitter @AishaStaggers. For more of her work, check out her page here!