Bamboozled December 19, 2016: The 12 Scams of Christmas

There are no lords a leaping or maids a milking, but there are plenty of scammers, crooks and fraudsters bringing trickery to the holiday season.

A Canadian chapter of the Better Business Bureau (it’s certainly closer to the North Pole and the man in the red suit than New Jersey) is offering important warnings to consumers about what it dubs “The 12 Scams of Christmas.”

Here’s what to watch out for:

12. Malware e-cards 

Lots of people have given up on snail mail holiday cards and instead turn to e-cards. Companies that you do business with online often send e-cards, too. The email will tell you to click on a link to see your holiday card.

But beware: viruses and malware often travel in e-mail attachments or links, BBB said. And then you’ll end up with an infected computer or you may give a scammer access to your files.

If you don’t recognize the sender, don’t click. If you’re not sure, just delete it.

11. Grandma scam

This one comes in several flavors. You receive an email or a phone call (with a bad connection) and the caller identifies himself as your grandchild, and says he’s been kidnapped. Or you might get a call from a law enforcement officer who says your grandchild was in a car accident or was arrested, and you need to send bail money to keep them out of jail.

And please, they say, don’t call your grandchild’s parents because the grandchild is afraid of getting in trouble.

They usually give instructions to wire money or to buy gift cards, and then you’re supposed to give the card numbers to the caller.  By the time you realize it was a fake, your money will be long gone.

If you ever get a call with troubling news about a grandchild, take the time to contact the child’s parents or the child himself to make sure he’s okay. Police won’t call and insist you send money to keep someone out of jail. Ever.

10. Pickpockets

This one may seem simple. If you’re shopping and you have lots of bags in hand, you may be a target. Or if you’re in a crowded public place such as at a tree lighting, your attention may be on something other than your wallet.

Be sure to keep your wallet in a secure location, BBB said.

9. Stolen gift cards

Be suspicious of deals for gift cards, and only buy them from reputable retailers and not online or from individuals.

“It’s easy for a scammer to sell you the card and then pull off the funds before you can even give the gift,” BBB said.

Take a look at what one government agency is doing to help warn customers of gift card fraud.

8. Santa scammers

Any child would love a letter from Santa, but some Santa letter offers are bogus. They promise joy for the child in your life, but they’re really trying to collect your private information for identity theft purposes.

Make sure the site is real and not gathering your data for identity theft purposes.

7. Fake charities

The holiday season usually means big donations for charities as givers feel the holiday spirit — and also want to get a tax deduction before the end of the year.

Be sure to check out any charity before you give. You can do this through the Division of Consumer Affairs at (973) 504-6215.

6. Fake product offers

When stores sell out of hot items — think Hatchimals — you might take your desperate search online. There’s a good chance you’ll find the item you want listed on an unknown site, or a site like Craigslist, at a super expensive price.

If you choose poorly, after you place your order, you will be out your money and never receive the promised item.

BBB said red flags include sites that use “http” and nor the more secure “https,” sites with no contact information or those that ask for payment by wire or money card.

While you’re shopping, beware of third party sellers on Amazon. Some are legit, but others take your money and run.

5. Travel scams

BBB warns about temptations for bargain prices for holiday travel. If you’re in a rush to book something, or you find a trip at an unusually low price, you could find yourself stranded.

“Be cautious when booking through online ads, never wire money to someone you don’t know and ask for references,” BBB said.

4. Romance scams

No one wants to spend the holidays alone, and scammers have their eyes out for lonely hearts with generous wallets.

“Everyone wants a special someone under the mistletoe, so holidays are prime time for scams,” BBB said. “Be careful with an online sweetheart who gets cozy too fast or asks for money.”

3. Puppy scams

Some families love to surprise their loved ones with a new pet for the holidays.

If you’re shopping online, be wary.

BBB noted a recent scam for a hairless cat.

“An Alberta woman purchased what she thought was a hairless Sphinx cat online, but found out she had been duped once the cat’s hair started to grow back,” BBB said.

Research the merchant or breeder before you make any pet purchase.

2. Social media gift exchanges

Bamboozled just wrote about this scam last week.

In this scam, your friends on social media may invite you to join a holiday gift exchange or a wine exchange. The promise is that if you send one item to a person on in the group, you’ll get as many as 36 in return.

But this is actually just a pyramid scheme, and unless you’re at the start of the exchange, you could end up with nothing. And, it’s illegal.

1. Mystery shopper scams

We’d all like some extra cash for the holidays, and that’s what the scammers are hoping for. They call, email or text and claim to represent a company that hires mystery shoppers. It promises you a healthy fee for each assignment.

This is really an employment scam in which you’ll receive fake checks for your salary, and the hucksters also look for your private information for identity theft.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.

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