'The 12 Scams of Christmas'

Dec 19, 2014

The Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York is out with its list of "The 12 Scams of Christmas." These Christmas cons may be worth a look as you celebrate the holidays.

The 12 Scams of Christmas
Credit Cheryl Hagen/WBFO News

1. Be careful when purchasing name brand items.

The Better Business Bureau's Peggy Penders notes we all love brand names, especially those of us with teenagers, but adds there are no shortcuts.

"Counterfeit items will make themselves available," says Penders, "They'll look like they are the item.... from clothing to handbags to jewelry... Tiffany comes to mind...when you drill down and look at the detail you are probably going to find it is like a Tiffany item (but it's not the real deal)." 

Penders says the BBB advises going to an authentic retailer or making sure your dealing with a legitimate online company before shelling out money for a name brand gift. 

2. Next on the list - Fake websites.

Penders says when ordering online make sure you're on a secure site and check out the fine print

"Do they have a privacy policy... is it up to date, is it in English?" asks Penders noting, "you're also going to want to make sure there's a contact opportunity, is there a phone number, can I call you?" Penders says that's important because websites can be here today and gone tomorrow. 

3. Bogus Charities.

It's the giving season, notes Penders adding it's easier to get pulled in this time of year.

"Children's stories and illness and puppies and animals," says Penders, "These all really pull at our heart strings. We all have our favorites. Do your homework before you actually make that contribution."

Penders say the best way to make sure your charity is legit is to ask a lot of questions. She notes the Better Business Bureau has a charity review program which can provide the resources you may need.

4. Credit Card Fraud.

Credit is the best way to pay for your gifts according to Penders, noting debit cards give scammers direct access to your cash while credit cards do offer some protection. Shes advises though to keep an eye on your statement.

"Take a look at it, make sure nothing fishy is going on because the sooner you catch a problem charge the better suited you are to avoid some problems down the line," says Penders, "What happens is, they hang on to this information, it can hit months even years later."

5. Santa Scammers.

The fifth scam of Christmas involves personalized letters from Santa. Penders notes many companies out there offer such a service for a small fee but she says the BBB advises don't ever supply personal information unless you've done your homework on the company.

"You want to make sure they've been around, they've been doing this more than just this season," says Penders, "they have a bit of a track record, you can find some positive information about that particular sight because you don't want to certainly have your child disappointed but you also don't want to give away your financial information, your personal information to a company you're not familiar with."

6. Malware from e-cards.

Scammers love email and they love to play on your emotions according to Penders, "These holiday cards can carry viruses and if you click on something you could be in trouble before you know it... It just happens than fast... so you've got to move slow."

Penders says the BBB advises using the internet with "double vision" meaning have two screens open while you surf the web so you can use the second screen to investigate whatever your considering investing in on the first screen.

7. Shady Resellers. 

Every year, holiday shoppers fight over the “must have” toy or gadget of the season. When the item is sold out in stores, you can often find it online through sites like Craigslist or eBay for a steeper price. The problem is that some sellers will gladly take your money but you’ll never receive your gift.

Penders says the Better Business Bureau advises you try to "work with somebody that's in your community that you might be able to meet during the day in a public place so that you're giving your information and your money to someone you can track down if you need to." The BBB advises when purchasing items on auctions like eBay, research the seller extensively and always listen to your doubts if the deal doesn’t sound legitimate.

8. Identity theft while shopping.

While you’re struggling at the mall with bags of presents, identity thieves see an opportunity to steal your wallet and debit or credit card numbers. ID thieves are also hard at work trying to steal your identity online.

"You don't want to leave your credit card sitting out on a counter," says Penders, "We are all walking around with smart phones. We've actually had people take pictures with cell phones. They can use that information and before you get home you're in trouble."

The BBB advises not to  let yourself get bogged down in purchases and lose track of your wallet. Know where your credit and debit cards are at all times and cover the keypad when entering your PIN while purchasing items or getting money from the ATM. Always check the security of your online purchases.

9. Shipping notification / Phishing scams.

Scammers take advantage of the holiday shopping season with fake email shipping notifications. They pose as FedEx, UPS or the Postal Service. It comes as an email that appears to be a shipping notification for a package. When you click on the file, you find that it isn't a tracking notification after all. It's really a virus that will download to your computer. A common version of this scam is a fake delivery failure notification. Scammers claim the attached virus is the receipt you need to collect your package from the local office.

The BBB advises never click on links in unsolicited email. Keep track of all online purchases as a reference to check against emails sent to your account. Stick to trusted sites.

10.  Is that Wi-Fi connection safe?

Public Wi-Fi is convenient, but risky. Never turn off your firewall, and make sure your antivirus software is current.

The BBB advises not to use your social media and bank accounts on public Wi-Fi.

11. Travel scams.

The holidays are a big time for travel. And for the most part, booking online is the most convenient way for many to go but remember, scammers could be on the other end of the computer. Before booking, make sure you are using a reputable, verified website.

The BBB advises if the price for airfare, rental car or hotel sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be wary of unrealistic prices and deals.

12. Beware of who is on the other end of the phone.

Whether it’s scammers posing as a stranded grandchild or as the IRS, be wary of unfamiliar numbers on your caller ID or people on the end of the line who you don’t know.

The BBB advises you to remember, the IRS will NEVER contact you over the phone. Also, if you get what you think is a scam call, don’t disclose too much information. BBB advises that the grandparent not disclose any information before confirming that it really is their grandchild. Also, ask a personal question, to confirm their identity is to ask a simple question that the grandchild would know.

For more on "The 12 Scams of Christmas" check out the Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York online.