Milwaukee, Wis. – While 2020 is quickly winding down, the scams targeting the public continue to increase. Now more than ever, consumers need to watch out for any fraudulent schemes aimed at swiping their cash and stealing personal information. Better Business Bureau (BBB) has prepared a Naughty List with the top 12 scams of Christmas that are most likely to catch consumers and donors off guard during this season.
Many of the scams on this list are facilitated through emails and social media platforms, however the latter is where most people are vulnerable. Exercise caution when you come 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 scams that could cut into your holiday cheer and our tips to avoid them:
1. E-Cards: These are a popular alternative to physical Christmas cards, especially because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, scammers are also using them as a way to retrieve your private information. If the sender’s name is unclear or the email is asking you to share personal information or pay money to open it, it may be a scam. If your email has an attachment that ends in ‘exe’, it could contain a virus or some form of malware.
Treat any links with caution. Read more about phishing scams.
2. Social Media Gift Exchanges: Each holiday season this scheme pops back up, 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 A newer version of this scam revolves around exchanging bottles of wine; another suggests purchasing $10 gifts online.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 e-transfer 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. And– it’s an illegal pyramid scheme.
Read more about the social media gift exhange.
3. 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 Christmas wish lists. This holiday season, when COVID-19 is causing kids to skip the traditional in-person visit with Santa, apps may play a more important 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.
Read more about holiday apps.
4. Alerts About Compromised Accounts: BBB has been receiving reports on Scam Tracker about a con claiming your Amazon, Paypal, Netflix or bank account has been compromised. Victims receive an email, call, or text message which explains that there has been suspicious activity on one of their accounts, and it further urges them to take immediate action to prevent the account from being compromised. Be extra cautious about unsolicited calls, emails, and texts.
Read more about compromised accounts scams.
5. Free Gift Cards: Nothing brings good cheer like the word ‘FREE’. Scammers have been known to take advantage of this weakness by sending bulk phishing emails requesting that you share personal information to receive free gift cards. In some of these emails, scammers impersonate legitimate companies like Starbucks and promise gift cards to loyal customers that have been supporting 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, do not open it. Instead, mark it as Spam or Junk. However, if you opened the email, do not click on any links.
Read more about gift card scams.
6. 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 get most of these packages delivered 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, jobseekers need to be wary of employment scams aimed at stealing money and personal information from job applicants. Keep an eye out for opportunities that seem too good to be true.
Read more about holiday job scams.
7. Look-Alike Websites: The holiday season brings endless emails offering deals, sales and bargains. Be wary of the emails you receive and the links enclosed. Some may lead to look-alike websites that are 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.
Read more on look-alike websites.
8. Fake Charities: Typically, 40% of all charitable donations are received during the last few weeks of the year. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations had to cancel their usual fundraising events and awareness campaigns and are now inviting donors to support online. Donors need to be on the lookout for fraudulent charities and scammers pretending to be individuals in need. Avoid impromptu donation decisions to unfamiliar organizations. Responsible organizations will welcome your gift tomorrow as much as they do today. Verify your charity at BBB’s give.org or on the Canada Revenue Agency website. Where possible, donate to the charity through their website and use a credit card.
Read more about fake charities.
9. Fake Shipping Notifications: With more consumers making purchases online, there is also an increase in the number of notifications about shipping details from retailers and carriers. 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 you into paying new shipping fees.
Read more about delivery and package scams.
10. 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. The goal is to steal your credit card information. Confirm if there is an admission fee for the virtual event on the event’s website. In the cases where there is a charge, use a credit card. If the event is free, watch for scammers trying to claim otherwise.
Read more about pop up holiday shops.
11. Top Holiday Wishlist Items: Low or ridiculously priced luxury goods, jewellery, designer clothing and electronics are almost always cheap counterfeits and knockoffs. This year, the PlayStation 5 console, Star Wars the Child Animatronic Edition (a.k.a Baby Yoda) and Apple’s new iPad are some of the items in high demand. Be very cautious if you are considering to purchase these high-value items from individuals through social sites.
Read more about holiday hot toy scams.
12. Puppy Scams: Many families, especially those with children, may be considering to add a furry friend to their household this year. However, you could fall victim to a pet scam, which are on the rise this year. Request to see the pet in person before making a purchase.
Read more on pet scams.
For general information on how to avoid scams, visit BBB.org/AvoidScams. For more advice, read BBB’s tips on online shopping. If you’ve spotted an online scam, report it to BBB ScamTracker.For more information or further inquiries, contact the Wisconsin BBB at www.bbb.org/wisconsin, 414-847-6000 or 1-800-273-1002. Consumers also can find more information about how to protect themselves from scams by following the Wisconsin BBB on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, the Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2019, people turned to BBB more than 183 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.8 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB Serving Wisconsin which was founded in 1939 and serves the state of Wisconsin.