Decorations as pre-kindergartners from Primorose School decorated live mini-Christmas trees at Back to Nature Home and Garden in Basking Ridge, Dec, 2015. (Ed Murray/NJ Advance Media)
While you’re decking the halls with boughs of holly and all that, scammers are hoping you’re distracted with the joys of the season.
But the Better Business Bureau is hard at work, making sure consumers are aware of common scams that hit this time of year.
Here are the BBB’s 12 scams of Christmas for 2017. (Here’s the 2016 list if you’d like to compare.)
12. Malware e-cards
While lots of holiday celebrators send paper holiday cards — snail mail — others save the stamp and send e-cards. But if you get an e-card from a scammer, a virus could be gift-wrapped along with it. If you receive an email from someone you don’t know, delete it. If you get an e-card from a friend, consider sending them a separate message to make sure it’s really from them and not from a huckster impersonating the people in your address book. Better to be safe than sorry.
11. Fake callers
BBB says it sees an increase in phony calls during the holiday season.
“Callers claim to be from the IRS or a debt collector and try and get personal information from you,” BBB said. “Be wary of unfamiliar numbers calling you, and ask questions to confirm their identity.”
If you’re not sure, hang up and find the number for the caller independently. Then you can confirm whether the call was the real thing.
10. Counterfeit goods
When you’re looking for a special gift for your loved ones, don’t get fooled by fakes. Luxury goods at low prices are almost always cheap counterfeits, BBB said.
Among the top counterfeit items are handbags, jewelry, watches, wallets and electronic devices, BBB said.
To avoid trouble, buy from reputable sellers.
If it seems too good to be true… you know the rest.
9. Look-a-like websites
When you shop online, pay attention to the site you’re on. It’s easy to recreate a website with a familiar logo, BBB said.
“Some red flags are the webpage is in http format, not the secure https, no contact information, and even asking for payment by wire or money card,” BBB said. “If you’re not sure which site to trust, go to bbb.org and read online reviews first.”
8. Unusual forms of payment
If someone asks you to pay for holiday purchases using prepaid debit cards, gift cards, wire transfers, third parties or other unusual methods, run in the other direction.
It’s hard if not impossible to track these payments, so if you’re the victim of a scammer, your money will be gone.
Instead, use a credit card so you have protections if the seller is a scammer.
7. Santa scammers
We told you about this one last week. While some trusted companies offer letters from Santa for your child, there are others who are phonies. Rather than send your child a note from the big guy in the red suit, they will take your money and steal your personal information.
You can see more about these scams here.
6. Fake charities
This is the time of year when you’ll hear charities asking for help. But make sure if you give, you give to those really in need.
“Scammers can easily set up fake charities with similar sounding names, and they also solicit via email, social media, and by text,” BBB said.
5. Phishing scams/shipping notifications
Scammers know you’re probably ordering gifts online and you’re waiting for their delivery so you can put them under the tree.
So they will send fake emails with an update on your package, sometimes impersonating USPS, Fedex and other delivery services.
But if you click, you might download malware or end up on a site that asks for your personal information.
If you want information on your packages, go directly to the site from which you ordered the gifts and use the tracking numbers they give you. Don’t count on an email.
4. Travel scams
BBB says the holidays are the biggest travel days of the year, so that means scammers will try to trick you with fake travel booking sites.
Before you book, make sure you are using a reputable and verifiable website, BBB said. It also warns you to be wary of online ads.
3. Grandparents scam
This scam happens throughout the year, but you can expect it to come with a holiday twist. If your grandchild is traveling home for the holidays, be on guard.
You may receive a phone call from someone impersonating your grandchild, or from someone saying they’re with your grandchild, and they’ve been arrested or hospitalized. And, of course, they need you to pay money right now.
If you get one of these calls, don’t panic. Hang up and call someone who can confirm where your grandchild is. If it’s a real emergency, the caller will call again.
Here’s more on how it works.
2. Bad public wifi
Your local mall or favorite store may have free wifi, and while it may be convenient, it’s not safe. Scammers can tap into your communications, whether its checking your bank or credit card balance or grabbing other information you have floating on the network, such as your social media passwords.
If you use public wifi, don’t use any of your personal accounts. Ever.
1. Puppy scams
Happiness is a warm puppy, sure, but BBB warns about buying pets online.
“You can end up with an unhealthy puppy from a puppy mill, or nothing at all because that dog never existed and it was all a scam,” BBB said.
It recommends you always research where you are buying the dog from and never wire any money. Also, be sure to pick up the puppy in person and don’t pay someone to ship it.