As you check off items on your holiday gift list, Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises consumers to stay alert during the holiday season to avoid falling prey to scammers poised to pounce on careless or overburdened shoppers.
“People can be trusting this time of year, and scammers know that,” said Michelle L. Corey, BBB St. Louis President and CEO. “The best way to thwart scammers is to be cautious and make sure you’re working with trustworthy businesses.”
Watch out for these five common scams at the mall, online or even in your email.
- Online shopping scams: Everyone loves a great deal, but some websites offer electronics, luxury goods or even puppies at prices that are too good to be true. Every holiday season, BBB hears from shoppers who paid for a “great deal” online, but received little or nothing in return.
BBB advice: Look for BBB’s Accredited Business seal when shopping online, and click on it to confirm that it’s legitimate. If you’re shopping on sites that you’re not familiar with, check out a retailer’s BBB Business Profiles at bbb.org or by calling 888-996-3887. Confirm that the company has a physical address and telephone number. Any pages where you enter personal or financial information should have https:// at the beginning of the address or URL.
- Online ads for hot toys and gadgets: When stores sell out, you may find the items online at sites like Craigslist or eBay — but for a much steeper price. Some sellers will take your money and run, leaving you without the gift or money to buy it elsewhere.
BBB Advice: If you shop on Craigslist or other classified sites, look for local sellers and conduct transactions in person. Bring a friend and meet at a public location if you’re leery of meeting the seller alone. Never wire money as payment. If you’re shopping on auctions like eBay, research sellers extensively and don’t buy if the deal sounds too good to be true.
- Identity theft at the mall: While you’re struggling with bags of presents, identity thieves may see an opportunity to steal your wallet or look over your shoulder to copy your debit or credit card numbers.
BBB Advice: Have a plan to keep your money and ID safe. Don’t let yourself get bogged down in purchases or lose track of your wallet. Know where your credit and debit cards are at all times and cover the keypad when entering your pin number while purchasing items or getting money from an ATM. If the merchant can process cards using an embedded chip, use that rather than swiping the magnetic strip. Make sure you put your card back in your wallet after each purchase.
- Bogus charitable pleas: The holidays are a time of giving, and that creates an opportunity for scammers to solicit donations to line their own pockets. Beware of solicitations from charities that don’t deliver on promises or are ill-equipped to carry through on promises. Resist demands for on-the-spot donations.
BBB Advice: Always research charities with BBB before you give to see if the charity meets the BBB’s 20 Standards for Charity Accountability. Read detailed reports on many BBB Accredited local charities at bbb.org. You can also read more tips on finding trustworthy charities at our website.
- Phishing emails: Phishing emails are a common way for hackers to get at your personal information or break into your computer. Around the holidays, beware of e-cards and messages purporting to be from companies like UPS, Federal Express or major retailers with links to package tracking information.
BBB Advice: Don’t click on any links or open any attachments to emails until you have confirmed that they are not malicious. Some emails can infect your computer with a virus or download malware if you click a link. Email addresses that don’t match up, typos and grammatical mistakes are common red flags of a malicious phishing email. Also beware of unsolicited emails from companies with which you have no association. Make sure you have current antivirus software and that all security patches have been installed on the computer.
BBB Scam Tracker is a great place to research and report scams. For more advice on being a savvy consumer this holiday season or to find BBB Business Profiles or BBB Charity Reviews, call 888-996-3887 or go online to bbb.org.