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Holiday scams: Don't let a grifter be a Grinch

Jenny Kane

No partridges in pear trees, no lords’ a-leaping, and no golden rings. The Better Business Bureau is out with the 12 scams of Christmas — offering tips on how to avoid rip-offs.

You could call it the “12 days of Griftmas” — the usual suspects used by scammers looking to profit from your loss. These scams are employed year-round, but Tammy Ward of Better Business Bureau of Northwest Florida says your concerns should ratchet up for the holidays.

“We just need to take that little extra minute or two when we get that email or see something on a social media ad,” Ward said. “And make sure that’s a legitimate site you’re going to, and you’re not clicking on something that you’re going to a scammer’s website.”

We start with number 12 on the list — puppy scams. Many families, especially those with children, may be considering adding a furry friend to their household this year. According to Ward, about 90% of such websites are fake, according to a recent report.

“A scammer has gone on and made a very legitimate site; but if you send them any money you’re not going to get an animal — either flown to you or whatnot. We call it ‘puppy scams,’ but it’s for any kind of animal. There are plenty of places locally, the Humane Society, shelters, go and look at the animal yourself.”

Coming in at number 11 is a staple of the season: the holiday wish list. Ward says while looking for bargains, also look out for stuff that’s too good to be true, while comparing those prices with other stores.

“Apples to apples; so if you’re looking at a piece of jewelry online, you want to go to another jewelry site that has the same exact item,” said Ward. “And make sure those prices are somewhat comparable.”

Also, be very cautious when thinking about purchasing high-value items from individuals through social sites.

This year, many local in-person events such as pop-up holiday markets or craft fairs, have moved online. That’s at number 10 — pop-up holiday virtual events — which appear to target people who are not that computer-savvy. Ward says they’re banking on people still not going out to brick-and-mortar locations.

“They’re telling you that they can be part of this online event, but you’re going to have to pay; if that is the case, you want to make sure you’re not getting ripped off,” said Ward. “Because they’re creating these fake event pages and they can put it out on social media [and] on emails, charging an admission when the event is actually free.”

Fake shipping notifications are number 9 on the list. With more consumers making purchases online, there is also an increase in the number of notifications about shipping details from retailers and carriers.

“The problem with this, especially during the holiday season is — if you have ordered things online you sometimes can’t remember or you don’t know who is trying to ship your item to you, Ward said. “So you make click on it without even realizing that it’s a fake email or a fake text message.”

And the fakery continues at number 8 with bogus charities. Usually, about 40 % of all charitable donations are received during the last few weeks of the year. Ward says when it comes to giving, leave your emotions out of the decision-making.

“Just like with the puppy scams; we have plenty of local charities that would love to receive your donations this year,” she said. “So reach out to the local charities in your area; but if you do go online, you want to make sure the organization is reputable and you’re on that particular site.”

And that transitions into number 7 on the list — look-alike websites created by scammers to trick people into downloading malware, making dead-end purchases, and/or sharing private information. Many of these types of scams, says the BBB’s Tammy Ward, look like a paid ad on social media.

“And they do this by changing just one letter or one number [on a URL]. I saw something that I found interesting, and I looked at the URL,” Ward said. “I found that it has a legitimate address, but they added an ‘s’ at the end. The web address without the ‘s’ was a totally different company.”

If you are uncertain about the email, do not click any of the links. Instead, hover over them to see where they reroute.

In our next installment, we look at the top six holiday scams as listed by the Better Business Bureau, involving holiday jobs, free gift cards, gift exchanges, and more.