A Dozen Scams Certain To Spoil Your Holiday Spirit

With Christmas just 10 days away and Hanukkah even sooner, it’s no wonder that most of us are feeling harried and distracted. But don’t take leave of your senses. Thieves and scammers celebrate the season by taking advantage of people who don’t have time to give things the usual scrutiny.

To help you get through the next few weeks with your cash and credit history intact, here are 12 top holiday ripoffs and advice on how to avoid them from the Better Business Bureau.

Travel trip-ups. Vacation scams cost consumers over $10 billion each year. Watch out for unexpected hotel and flight “confirmation” or “cancellation” notices, which trick consumers into clicking unsafe links to “stop” reservations that you didn’t make in the first place.

Don’t broadcast your whereabouts. When shopping or vacationing, don’t become a target for theft. Guard belongings, be observant and pack lightly. Avoid broadcasting your travel plans on social networks–burglars lurk there too.

Charitable misgivings. Charitable solicitation scams often increase in November and December, when holiday themed drives are abundant. Be skeptical of solicitors who use high pressure tactics, won’t answer basic donation questions or can’t provide proof of the charity’s affiliation. Invoices for past due payments are another common gambit.

Gift cards that take. Avoid purchasing gift cards from disreputable third parties and examine them closely for terms, restrictions, fees and expiration dates. Use any cards you receive early as they may become non-redeemable if retailers go out of business.

A ‘free offer’ may cost you. Dodge deceptive deals and “free” offers on desirable toys, jewelry and electronics in auctions, classified ad sites, social media posts, pop-up ads, online coupons, sweepstakes and surveys.

Don’t take credit you don’t deserve. During the big spending season, discard ads, shred offers for high-interest credit cards, and avoid costly layaway programs and payday loan traps.

Job offers that don’t work. You may want to earn a little extra money but abstain from limited-time job offers for high-paying mystery shopping gigs and online work-at-home tasks. “Employers” may steal data from applications, fail to send start-up materials or induce paycheck money transfer schemes.

Don’t let Santa invade your privacy. There are more than 60 domain names registered in the name of Santa Claus. Steer away if a Santa website requests unnecessary personal data, doesn’t abide by advertising laws or fails to disclose contact details and privacy policies.

Dodgy downloads. Dangers may be hiding in holiday-themed articles, music, screensavers and other downloads. Before surfing the Web, social media sites or reading your holiday e-mails, update anti-virus protection and check firewalls. Avoid shopping or banking online on unsecured Wi-Fi networks at public places, like airports and hotels.

Return to sender. Do not click links or attachments in e-cards and other holiday greetings from unfamiliar senders. Ensure your spam filters are set.

Don’t bank on it. Disregard sudden e-mails or text messages about issues with your bank account. Instead, contact your bank or financial institution directly to verify.

Special deliveries. Don’t accept notices about delivery delays or confirmations on unordered packages; phishers often pose as well-known retailers or shipping companies to gain false credibility–and information.

12 Schemes of the Holidays [BBB]

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  1. [redacted] says:

    On my cell wile waliking to the car: “Hey Mom, I just bought two new laptops for the kiddos’ from best buy and an iPad for the wife…’bout to go to golds to work out for a little while now. See ya at 7 for dinner.”

    ….

    “Officer, I have no idea how they knew I had electronics in the trunk!”

    It’s crazy how many very vocal and private conversations I hear when in the parking lot these days.

    • bluline says:

      I overheard a similar conversation between a check-out clerk and a customer at a Dick’s Sporting Goods. The clerk asked the customer if she wanted to sign up for some promotion or other, and she agreed. The clerk then asked for her name, address, and phone number, which I easily overheard. Bingo! I had all the information I needed to track that woman down and do who-knows-what if I’d had a mind to do so. Instead, as the customer and I walked out the door together, I politely told her I’d overheard her entire conversation and that she should be more aware of her surroundings when giving out such information. She was quite shocked that a stranger now had possession of that information (the clerk was a stranger, too, I suppose), but agreed that she needed to be more careful. I then went back into the store and reported what I’d heard to a manager and advised him that I thought his clerks should be more discreet when asking customers for personal info. He agreed, and thanked me, but I have no idea if any action was ever taken.

  2. AllanG54 says:

    My wife got one of those scam emails from someone who said they were from Amazon and sent her a blood pressure meter. She doesn’t even have an account with Amazon and checked with her credit cards to make sure nothing posted. When she called Amazon to report this they really weren’t interested, didn’t want her to forward the email and just took some basic info. I guess they don’t really care if they’re being used as pawns.

    • Rachacha says:

      The blood pressure e-mail was very widespread (I received it on every one of my 5 e-mail accounts and our corporate IT group sent out a warning to all employees). I suspect that Amazon already knoew about the E-mail, and honestly what would they be able to do about it?

    • GoldVRod says:

      What did she expect Amazon to do exactly?

  3. philpm says:

    We had a report on our local news this morning about hiding your packages and such while shopping. The reporter came across a car that had laptops and at least one purse sitting out in the open. And people wonder why their windows get smashed.

    • Outrun1986 says:

      I see this all the time here, the most common one I see is someone leaves their cart in the grocery store and they are in the next aisle while they are getting something, and the cart is sitting there with purse wide open in the top. Then people wonder why stuff gets stolen.

      Most common thing I see left in cars is GPS units. Not only is the GPS attractive but if you have that in your car the thief will start wondering what else is in there.

      • Important Business Man (Formerly Will Print T-shirts For Food) says:

        and Oh Gawd, don’t have “Home” set in your GPS, because you’ll be having double encounters!

        • RecordStoreToughGuy_RidesTheWarpOfSpaceIntoTheWombOfNight says:

          Security experts recommend saving your home address under such unappealing names as “Venereal Clinic,” “Snake Farm,” or “Spider Infestation.”

    • bluline says:

      Even if you are going to store purchased items out of sight in your vehicle, it makes sense to move the vehicle to an entirely different area of the parking lot (assuming it’s a large one like at a mall) before going back inside. Thieves often keep watch for people who put stuff in the trunk and then leave the vehicle, making it an easy target. They don’t usually follow a car just to see if it’s being re-parked.

    • Dallas_shopper says:

      I’m required to take my laptop home with me every day. If I’m planning to make a stop between work and home, I stash my laptop in the trunk of the car when I’m in my office parking lot. Someone would have to follow me 15 + miles and know there’s a laptop in the trunk in order to take it; I don’t leave anything laying around in plain sight in the car.

      Unfortunately this time of year people store all kinds of stupidly valuable things in the trunk so I try to drop the lappie at home before running errands, but sometimes I just don’t feel like it. Blech.

      • nugatory says:

        I’ve found filling up you passenger and back seats with trash is a good deterrent :-D

      • RecordStoreToughGuy_RidesTheWarpOfSpaceIntoTheWombOfNight says:

        Normally getting information from a laptop is easy, especially when the person who owns it leaves it sitting on the passenger seat in full view of everyone. When that person keeps it locked in their trunk and has a fifteen mile commute, that’s when you have to think like a spy.

        /Burn Notice

  4. Portlandia says:

    “Don’t broadcast your whereabouts. When shopping or vacationing, don’t become a target for theft. Guard belongings, be observant and pack lightly. Avoid broadcasting your travel plans on social networks‚Äîburglars lurk there too.”

    I’m sorry, I always read this and laugh at this silly advice. Seriously people, lock your profile down for friends only and you can post your whereabouts any time you want. If you’re worried about your friends stealing your stuff, you need better friends.

    • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

      I wish my neighbor would heed this advice. She posts everything about her life. She and her husband go on trips, and every day on Facebook she’ll post pictures of the two of them and they’re clearly not home. Here we are in Timbuktu, having a great time! It’s a miracle she hasn’t come home to a completely gutted house.

  5. GoldVRod says:

    “Do not click links or attachments in e-cards and other holiday greetings from unfamiliar senders.”

    This is terrible advice as it implies that holiday greetings from known contacts, family and friends etc are somehow magically safe. In fact, most contemporary malware e-greeting type viruses use a hacked account and contact lists with a very tailored message to the recipient. So you get a holiday message from someone you actually know with a text message and content that seems very safe.

    But basically you’re only safe if you read all messages in plain text (in Outlook et al) and don’t open ANY attachments without first confirming with the sender that they actually sent it.

    Even then just don’t do it.

  6. crispyduck13 says:

    Sing it with me now:

    It’s the mooost wonderful time of the yeeeaaar!

  7. Agnes says:

    On a different note, this time of year is particularly ripe for the on-foot parking lot scam: “Ma’am, my car is out of gas, and I’ve called a tow truck, but I don’t have the money to pay for it, do you think you could help?”

    The first time, I immediately offered to approach mall security, because I was sure they would want to help (okay, maybe I was an innocent in several different ways), and suddenly the individual got a phone call they “just had” to take — and then proceeded to walk hurriedly away from me.

    Since then, I’ve been approached… ten times? fifteen times? I don’t know if I appear kind-hearted, or if it’s just that these scams run non-stop this time of year, and everybody gets approached.

    • Fishnoise says:

      Experienced the “out-of-gas” thing any number of times — usually I’ll offer to call local cops/security for them and they’ll go away.

      Last time, though, had just found a spot in a downtown city block near my job interview and had hoped to spend the half hour beforehand in the car reviewing my portfolio. Guy walks up and starts the long-winded script about his old car he left on the side of the highway and how he’s an assistant minister and he called the tow truck but they couldn’t come and how I look like a Christian and — that’s when I just hold up my hand and asked how much he wanted to leave me alone — he stopped and said hopefully, “six dollars?”

      I extracted six bucks, handed it to the guy and chalked it up to expenses. (No, I didn’t get the job, but I at least I was totally prepared for the interview.)

    • tralfaz says:

      I usually respond to the “out of gas” scam by saying, “Why in the world would you leave your house without enough gas to return?” or something similar.

      One of the variants is that a person will flash their driver’s license and show you (purportedly) where they live. Then the question I ask is, “Why would drive all the way over here if you didn’t have enough gas to get back?”

      Because, really… if I didn’t have any cash, and my car was low on gas, the last thing I’d do is drive anywhere that I didn’t have to go.

  8. Outrun1986 says:

    I see people leaving stuff in cars all the time. People like to leave their GPS units in plain view, and their TV screens that are strapped to the back of the seats. Those are both easy targets. Then the people that take packages to their trunk and go right back into the mall for more. This shouldn’t be done at all if it can be helped, and if you really need to go back in you should at least move the car. I see people leaving their purses in the shopping carts all the time, then they wonder why its gone shortly after. My parents taught me from a VERY early age that you have to watch your purse if you leave it in the shopping cart.

    And here I am paranoid about walking to my car with small, expensive, easily steal-able electronics that I just purchased.. The last thing I want to happen is for me to be walking out of a mall carrying a bag from the apple store. Stores aren’t responsible for what happens in the parking lot apparently, so Amazon and Newegg it is for me….

    • Princess Beech loves a warm cup of treason every morning says:

      This reminded me of how shopping malls were in Manila. They have customer baggage deposit/claim areas you can leave purchases in little cubbyholes behind a counter managed by a store personnel (something like the “loss prevention” guy at Best Buy stores but they don’t check receipts).

      They just give you an control # for your stuff you deposit, then you can go shop again then claim the rest of your stuff later to take to your car. Of course you shouldn’t lose the control # or else you will have to spend the time trying to convince the store guy that those packages are yours and possibly pay a relatively huge fine to claim it.

      My family used to deposit a lot of stuff during shopping days, and it works. :) Makes me nostalgic since I’m in the US now.