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More scams to avoid this holiday season

Photo by WUWF Public Media

In part two of our report on the “12 days of Griftmas,” a look at the top holiday scams as compiled by the Better Business Bureau.

It’s as old as the first retail holiday season. Many seek temporary jobs this time of the year to pick up a few extra bucks. But even that can contain pitfalls, as we hear in the number-6 scam. Once again, we’re joined by Tammy Ward, with the BBB in Pensacola. She says be careful if you’re applying for work online, and do not provide personal information. And she adds that the job itself could be bogus.

“You’re supposed to be getting a check in the mail and you can work from home; and you’re supposed to take that money that you don’t use for any kind of equipment that you don’t need, and you send your check to someplace else,” said Ward. “By the time that the check is sent to you is deposited, and the bank comes back and tells you that it’s fake, you’ve already sent a portion of your own money to a scammer.”

Number-5 is the threat from so-called “free” gift cards. Everybody loves freebies, especially during the holidays. Part of the scam could be bulk phishing — with a p-h — emails requesting personal information to receive free gift cards. Some of those emails could impersonate legitimate companies, and involve a fake survey.

“Sometimes, it’s actually, if you want to take the survey, you’ll get this free gift card,” Ward said. “They’re asking for personal information, so anything that you put into that website, they may be able to use and steal your identity for it. So for the most part, nothing is free.”

Do not open unsolicited gift card offers; instead, mark it as Spam or Junk. But if you open it, do not click on any links.

Number-4 is compromised accounts. The BBB has been receiving reports on its Scam Tracker about a con, claiming your subscription or bank account has been compromised because of suspicious activity. An email, text or phone call is made saying the account has been suspended. Ward advises extra caution.

“They want you to click onto a link that they provide in that email or that text message to verify your account,” said Ward. “You’re going to be putting in personal information that could be your user name and password — of which they can then turn around and go to the actual site, and then use your information to steal from you.”

Apple’s app store and Google Play list dozens of holiday-themed apps — where kids can chat with Santa, light a menorah, and relay their wish lists. The number-3 scam, says Ward, is an offshoot of sorts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Perhaps your kids haven’t been able to sit on Santa’s lap; and so there are legitimate apps that can help you with this,” she said. “But, a scammer can create this app and if they tell you it’s going to cost a nominal fee — and you put in your information — then they may steal that information. The free app can also contain malware.”

Coming in at number-2, social media gift exchanges, an annual holiday practice that most wish would go away. A newer version of this scam, says Ward, revolves around exchanging bottles of wine — which is illegal.

“And they’re pyramid schemes, basically; if you’re old enough you remember getting a letter in the mail with 7 names and addresses, and you send a dollar to each one of those, and then you send out letters,” she said, “and then you put your name on and take one name off. This is the same type of pyramid scheme — it’s just on social media.”

And now, the number one holiday scam, according to the Better Business Bureau: social media ads. The bad guys take advantage of those who look at online businesses on their phones, because it’s very difficult to read the fine print. In many instances, it appears to be the “gift that keeps on giving” — or not.

“If you’re purchasing something that you’re basically agreeing to sign up for something that’s going to come every month; and it could be a whole year’s worth of something,” Ward said. “And each month, you’re going to be charged a certain amount of money and you may or may not receive something in the mail. So that’s why we’re saying it’s misleading.”

As we wrap up our report — and wish everyone a happy and protected holiday season — we replay the BBB’s Tammy Ward’s message from Part 1.

“We just need to take that little extra minute or two when we get that email or see something on 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.”

To report a suspected scam — online or off — contact the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.