While 2021 is quickly winding down, scams targeting the public continue to cause trouble.
Consumers should watch out for any fraudulent schemes aimed at swiping their cash and stealing personal information.
To assist consumers in identifying and avoiding scams this holiday season, Better Business Bureau (BBB) has put together a list with the top 12 scams of Christmas that are most likely to catch consumers and donors off guard this season.
Consumers encounter many of the scams on this list through email and social media platforms; however, the latter is where most people are vulnerable. BBB recommends consumers exercise caution when coming across social media ads about discounted items, event promotions, job opportunities and donation requests, as well as direct messages from strangers. If you are asked to make a payment or donation by wire or e-transfer, through third parties, by prepaid debit or gift cards, treat this as a red flag.
Be mindful of these 12 scams that could cut into your holiday cheer:
■ Misleading Social Media Ads: As you scroll through your social media feed, you often see items for sale from a small business or independent seller. Sometimes, the ad may claim a percentage of proceeds will support a charity; all you have to do is order a product or sign up for a free trial. BBB Scam Tracker receives thousands of reports every month of people paying for items they never receive, getting charged monthly for a free trial they never signed up for, or receiving an item that is counterfeit or much different than the one advertised.
The 2020 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report identified online purchase scams as the most common cons reported to Scam Tracker and the category with the most victims. Do your homework and research the company before ordering. Check out the business profile on BBB.org and read the reviews.
■ Social Media Gift Exchanges: This scheme pops back up each holiday season, and this year is no different. A newer version of this scam revolves around exchanging bottles of wine; another suggests purchasing $10 gifts online. Another twist asks you to submit your email into a list where participants get to pick a name and send money to strangers to “pay it forward.” There is even a twist about “Secret Santa Dog” where you buy a $10 gift for your “secret dog.”
In all of these versions, participants unwittingly share their personal information, along with those of their family members and friends, and are further tricked into buying and shipping gifts or money to unknown individuals. While consumers may take part in social media gift exchanges with the best intentions, they may also contribute to a pyramid scheme.
■ Holiday Apps: Apple’s App Store and Google Play list dozens of holiday-themed apps where children can video chat live with Santa, light the menorah, watch Santa feed live reindeer, track his sleigh on Christmas Eve, or relay their holiday wish lists. This holiday season, like last year when COVID-19 caused children to skip the traditional in-person visit with Santa, apps may play a more critical role than ever. Review privacy policies to see what information will be collected. Be wary of free apps, as they can sometimes contain more advertising than apps that require a nominal fee. Free apps can also contain malware.
■ Alerts About Compromised Accounts: BBB has received reports regarding a con claiming consumers’ Amazon, Paypal, Netflix or bank account has been compromised, and they must take immediate action to secure their account. Scammers contact victims through email, phone or text message claiming suspicious activity has been detected and request the victim verify their account details, leading to compromised personal information, such as the consumer’s physical address or banking information. Be extra cautious about unsolicited calls, emails, and texts and what information you provide over unsecured or unverified communications.
■ Free Gift Cards: Nothing brings good cheer like the word “free.” Scammers utilize this tendency by sending bulk phishing emails requesting personal information to receive free gift cards. In some of these emails, scammers impersonate legitimate companies and promise gift cards to loyal customers who have supported their business throughout the pandemic. They may also use pop-up ads or send text messages with links saying you were “randomly selected” as the winner for a prize.
If you have received an unsolicited email with gift card offers, mark the email as ‘Spam’ or ‘Junk’ and do not open it. If you do open it, be sure not to click on any links or download any attachments, it may direct you to a malicious website or download malware to your device.
■ Temporary Holiday Jobs: Retailers typically hire seasonal workers to help meet the demands of holiday shoppers. Shippers and delivery services are top holiday employers this year because of the increase in online orders and the need to deliver most of these packages before Christmas. These jobs are a great way to make extra money, sometimes with the possibility of turning into a long-term employment opportunity. However, job seekers need to be wary of employment scams whose goal is to steal money and personal information from job applicants. Keep an eye out for opportunities that seem too good to be true.
■ Look-Alike Websites: The holiday season brings endless emails offering deals, sales and bargains. Be wary of emails with links enclosed. Some may lead to look-alike websites created by scammers to trick people into downloading malware, making dead-end purchases and sharing private information. If you are uncertain about the email, do not click any of the links. Instead, hover over them to see where they reroute.
■ Fake Charities: Typically, charities receive 40% of all their donations during the last few weeks of the year. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations canceled their usual fundraising events and awareness campaigns, causing them to reach out online to potential donors. BBB advises donors to look out for fraudulent charities and scammers pretending to be individuals in need. Avoid impromptu donation decisions to unfamiliar organizations. Responsible organizations will welcome a gift tomorrow as much as they do today, so do not feel rushed to donate immediately. Use BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance to verify a charity at and research how they use their funds at Give.org. When possible, contribute to the charity through their website rather than a third-party service and use a credit card.
■ Fake Shipping Notifications: As more consumers purchase online, the number of notifications about shipping details from retailers and carriers increases. Scammers are using this new surge to send phishing emails with links enclosed that may allow unwanted access to your private information or download malware onto your device. They may also try to trick people into paying new shipping fees. If you receive a notification about an upcoming shipment, be sure it references the item purchased and the right shipping company or retailer used.
■ Pop-Up Holiday Virtual Events: This year, many local in-person events, such as pop-up holiday markets or craft fairs, have moved online. Scammers are creating fake event pages, social media posts, and emails, charging admission for what used to be a free event to steal credit card information. Confirm with the organizer of the event if there is an admission fee. In the cases where there is a charge, use a credit card. If the event is free, watch for scammers trying to claim otherwise.
■ Top Holiday Wishlist Items: Low-priced luxury goods, jewelry, designer clothing, and electronics are almost always cheap counterfeits and knockoffs. This year, the Galactic Snackin’ Grogu Animatronic (aka Baby Yoda) and game consoles are in high demand. Be very cautious when considering purchasing these high-value items from individuals through social sites.
■ Puppy Scams: Many families, especially those with children, may consider adding a furry friend to their household this year. However, you could fall victim to a pet scam, which is on the rise this year. Request to see the pet in person or over a video call before making a purchase.
For general information on how to avoid scams, visit BBB.org/AvoidScams.
For more resources on how to avoid scams and make the most out of this holiday season, visit BBB.org/Holiday.