With the holiday shopping season in full swing, the Better Business Bureau urges consumers to be mindful of possible scams that could cut into their holiday cheer.
1. Fake Shipping Notifications
With the increased use of online platforms and e-stores to purchase gifts, more people will be receiving delivery notifications from their retailers and carriers. However, some of these communications could be phishing scams that are designed to look like they are from reputable businesses, as they often use legitimate business names and logos. Opening these emails and clicking on the links enclosed may allow unwanted access to private information and passwords and also download malware onto your device.
Things to remember:
• Most online vendors provide tracking information that indicates the delivery company as well as verifies the status and location of your items.
• You should not be required to pay an additional fee to receive your items as typically, delivery charges are paid when making the purchase.
• Delivery companies do not require your personal information to conduct deliveries.
2. Phony Charities
‘Tis the season for gifts and giving, as 40 per cent of all charitable donations are received during the last few weeks of the year. People need to be on the lookout for fraudulent charities and scammers pretending to be needy individuals.
How to protect yourself:
• Look for sound-alike names.
• Do not use the size of the charity or its regional scope to determine its trustworthiness, as charities of all sizes have demonstrated bad accountability practices. Also, do not rely solely on friends’ recommendations.
• Verify your charity at BBB’s give.org or Canada Revenue Agency.
• Always donate money using a credit card or cheque, so that your gift is traceable.
• Be wary of door to door solicitations. Ask for written information about the charity as well as proof of tax deductions.
• If you are donating online, ensure you are not using public Wi-Fi. Do the transaction directly through the charity’s website or through reputable payment portals such as PayPal or Verified by Visa.
3. Look-alike Websites
The holiday season brings endless emails offering deals, sales and bargains. Be wary of the emails you receive and the links enclosed as some may lead to look-alike websites that are created by scammers to mimic legitimate websites and trick people into downloading malware, making purchases and sharing private information.
• Review the sender’s email address. Legitimate businesses will often send emails with a proprietary address, like @bbb.org.
• If you are uncertain about the email, do not click any of the links. Instead, hover over them to see where they reroute.
• Look for misspellings and bad grammar in the emails you receive and on the websites you visit.
• Only enter private information if the website begins with ‘https’, as the ‘s’ means it is secured and will be encrypted.
• Contact the company or retailer or visit their website directly to confirm the promotions.
4. Social Media Gift Exchange
While the thought of buying one gift and getting 36 in return sounds like a great way to increase the number of boxes under the tree, this is a pyramid scheme and these are illegal. Stay away from any offers and invitations that:
• Sound like a quick way to get money or benefits;
• Have no paper trail;
• Require cash only; and
• In some cases, prevent you from sharing details of the transaction with anyone.
Rule of thumb: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
5. Travel Scams
Holiday vacations and travel plans can put a major dent in the coffers. Big bills can make the ugliest sale sign very attractive. However, pay attention to the offers being advertised as some may be scams, instead of opportunities to save.
Tips to avoid travel scams:
• Be wary of email offers about travel discounts, especially those coming from unknown senders. Only do business with legitimate travel websites.
• Never transfer or wire money to someone you do not know.
• Always ask for references, shop around and read reviews before you finalize a transaction.
6. Puppy Scams
Many families, especially those with children, may be considering to add a furry friend to their household. However, you could fall victim to the year-long pet purchase ploy. Typically, the scammers pose as breeders or pet owners with too many puppies to care for. They will share photos or videos of the pet and request that you wire money to them for the purchase and shipping. Once they have received your money, they may start sending updates about delays with shipment or you may never hear from them again. In most cases, the buyers are left with nothing, as there was no puppy to begin with, and there is no chance of getting their money back. In a few instances, the puppy that arrives is not what was ordered.
Puppy scam prevention tips:
• Request to see the pet in person before making a purchase.
• Do an image search online of the photo given of your pet. If multiple websites pop up, it is probably a scam.
• Know what prices to expect for the type of pet you are interested in.
• Search bbb.org for accredited breeders and rescue shelters.
• Never pay using a money order, Western Union or Moneygram. Use a credit card as this will give you the added protection of being able to dispute the charges.
7. Letters from Santa
Several trusted companies offer charming and personalized letters from Santa, but scammers mimic them to get personal information from unsuspecting parents.
• Check bbb.org to find out which companies are legitimate.
• Be wary of unsolicited emails offering deals on letters from Santa.
8. Temporary Holiday Jobs
This scam is on BBB’s list of Top 10 Scams. Retailers and delivery services need extra help during the holidays and are recruiting seasonal and temporary employees. However, beware of employment scams aimed at stealing money and personal information from job applicants. Here are a few tips to avoid these scams:
• Apply for the job in person or by visiting the employer’s website directly. Avoid clicking any links in the email.
• Look out for vague company descriptions. If you cannot identify the company’s contact information, owner, headquarters or product from its online ad, it could be a scam. Check bbb.org to see if the company exists and to confirm its rating.
• Be wary of email or text message solicitations that require you to share personal information, pay for a job lead or offer to hire you without an interview. Also, avoid job offers where interviews are conducted via online chats and instant messaging services.
• Look out for jobs that require you to pay for equipment or software needed to do the work.
• If you have been hired for a work-from-home job, be careful if your new boss sends you a cheque for more than you need and requests you to send some back or to use part of it to pay someone else. That is a classic overpayment scam. The cheque will most likely bounce, and you will be stuck with repaying the bank.
9. Free Gift Cards
Nothing brings good cheer like the word ‘free’ and scammers have been known to take advantage of this weakness by sending bulk phishing emails requesting that you share personal information to receive free gift cards. They may also use pop-up ads and in other cases, tamper with physical gift cards being sold in stores. Here are a few tips:
• Check physical cards to see if the pin number has been exposed.
• If purchasing online, only purchase gift cards from reputable websites.
• Gift cards do not have an expiration date in Canada.
• If you have received a phishing 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.
• Do not share any personal information to receive a gift card.
• To prevent pop-up ads from appearing, turn on your ad blocker on your device.
These are becoming a popular alternative to physical Christmas cards. However, scammers are using them as a way to retrieve your private information. Here are a few tips to identify legitimate e-cards:
• If the sender’s name is unclear or the email is asking you to share personal information or pay money to open it, it may be a scam.
• If your email has an attachment that ends in ‘exe,’ it could contain a virus or some form of malware.
11. Unusual Forms of Payment
As you do your holiday shopping, be wary of individuals and businesses that request payment:
• By wire transfer;
• Through third parties;
• By prepaid debit or gift cards; or
• By cash only.
These methods do not have a paper trail, have no form of recovery and cannot be undone.
12. Counterfeit Goods
Low or ridiculously priced luxury goods, jewellry, designer clothing and electronics are almost always cheap counterfeits and knockoffs. For this scam, the primary rule applies – if the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
If you encounter one of these scams this holiday season, help protect yourself and others by:
• Keeping a close eye on your financial statements and quickly disputing any unrecognized charges.
• Submitting a report to BBB Scam Tracker.
• Filing a complaint with BBB and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.