HOUSTON — Online scammers stay busy all year 'round trying to come up with new ways to steal your personal information -- or your hard-earned money.
The Better Business Bureau released a Naughty List with the top 12 scams of Christmas that consumers should avoid.
They often use emails and social media platforms to try and trick people.
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.
Common holiday scams
1. Misleading social media ads: As you scroll through your social media feed, you often see items for sale from a small business. BBB Scam Tracker receives reports 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 from the one advertised. The 2020 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report found that online purchase scams were 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.
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 A newer version of this scam revolves around exchanging bottles of wine; another suggests purchasing $10 gifts online.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 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 exchange.
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 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 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 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 who 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 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.
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 them online. 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.
9. Fake shipping notifications: More consumers are 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 people 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 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.
Read more about pop up holiday shops.
11. Top holiday wish list 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 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 thinking about adopting a furry friend 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.