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12 Days of Scams | How scammers swindle holiday shoppers out of money

The Better Business Bureau compiled a 'naughty list' of 12-holiday scams. BBB provides tips to keep you safe and save you money.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It's the holiday season, which means scammers are in full swing. The Better Business Bureau provided a list of 12 things to watch for during this scam season. 

"We're here to create a marketplace of trust between consumers and businesses," said Tony Binkley with the Better Business Bureau of Greater East Tennessee.

Misleading social media ads

The whole concept of social media advertisements is to get scrollers to click on the ad. Scammers know this. Some fake social media ads will say their items are from a small business or offer luxury items for extremely cheap prices. The BBB warns those items may never come.

"Most of those things don't exist. It's a great deal for a reason because it doesn't exist. You always heard that something sounds too good to be true, it's probably not. And this is generally the case. Do your research, pump the brakes, and don't get too excited about a great deal," Binkley said.

He suggests checking out the business profile on BBB.org and reading the reviews. 

Social media gift exchanges

The BBB warns of this scam. They say it is one that returns year after year. Sometimes this scam revolves around exchanging bottles of wine, trading fluffy socks, gift cards, Christmas goodies, or other gifts with strangers on social media. The set-up of this scam often operates as a pyramid scheme, where you have to pay to 'get in,' and eventually get paid even more in the end. The BBB says most people never get the payout they sign up for. 

"It's a $10 gift. So you know, not a big loss. But it's not about the $10 you may lose, it's your personal information. Sometimes you have to give them your name and your address so somebody can ship things to you," Binkley said.

 Read more about the social media gift exchange on the BBB's website.

Holiday apps

The BBB said all app stores on smartphones and tablets 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 the past two years when COVID-19 caused children 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.

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 account scams.

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 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.

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, job seekers 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.

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.

Read more on look-alike websites.

Fake charities

Typically, 40% of all charitable donations are received during the last few weeks of the year. Donors are advised 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. Verify a 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.

Fake shipping notifications

More consumers are making purchases online, and 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 people into paying new shipping fees.

Read more about delivery and package scams.

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 credit card information. Confirm with the organizer of the event if there is an admission fee. In 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.

Top holiday wishlist items

Low or ridiculously-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 some of the items in high demand. Be very cautious when considering purchasing these high-value items from individuals through social sites.

Read more about holiday hot toy scams.

Puppy scams

Many families, especially those with children, may be considering adding a furry friend to their household this year. However, you could fall victim to pet scams, which are on the rise this year. Request to see the pet in person before making a purchase. 

Read more on pet scams


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