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Rip-Off Alert: Heed the 12 Scams of Christmas

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Updated: 12/18/2013 2:32 pm
The holidays are a busy time of year for everyone, and that includes scammers. So while you’re out and about or doing your shopping online, you’ll want to keep this list in mind.

1) Charity scams: Scammers know many people are looking to give back this time of year, and they’re looking to take their unfair share. Always research charities at give.org and watch out for charities with names similar to well-established charities. These could be nothing more than bogus entities designed to deceive you. Also, avoid callers who try to pressure you into making immediate donations. Well-run charities will never do this.

2) Puppy/pet scams: The holidays are a time when many people consider purchasing a pet to liven up a home. However, this should never be an impulse buy. People looking to purchase pets should ensure they have the physical space and the time to devote to a pet, and research the background of the seller and the animal they’re considering. They should also be very leery of websites which claim to offer purebred puppies for free or situations where sellers request payments be wired to them or to a shipping company. Pet scams are common online and often originate from overseas.

3) Fake Overstock sites: In the past year, Better Business Bureau has shut down more than one hundred fraudulent websites that illegally steal the famous BBB logo and imply they are legitimate sites. A noticeable trend recently is websites that include the word “overstock” in the domain name, hoping to fool consumers into thinking they are shopping with Overstock.com.

4) Phishing scams: Look out for emails supposedly from major retailers or your credit card provider saying there was a problem with a recent purchase. You should always contact the retailer or your credit card company directly if you have concerns.

5) Cryptolocker: This scam is as nasty as it sounds! When you click on bad links or attachments in emails, your computer files are encrypted and scammers demand you pay a ransom to get them unlocked. The FBI advises against cooperating with the scammers. If this happens to you, contact a computer expert but research them first at bbb.org. Always be wary of email from senders you don't know and never open or download an attachment unless you're sure you know what it is, and that it's safe.

6) The grandparent/relative in distress scam: If you receive a call from someone claiming to be a loved one in a difficult spot – especially overseas – watch out. Fraudsters play on emotions. If a caller says, ‘Grandma, it’s me!’ don’t offer any information; let them tell you who they are, and always verify information you receive with other family members. Many people have wired funds away rashly, to their regret.

7) Sweepstakes scams: These scams are always in season, but they’re particularly nasty during the holidays. People are informed via letter, phone call or email that they’ve won a sweepstakes or lottery. However, they’re told they have to pay taxes or fees to collect their winnings. Here’s the bottom line: if you have to pay to collect a prize, you haven’t won anything.

8) Pickpockets: Keep your purse or wallet secure when shopping. Don’t get overburdened or put shopping bags down, even for a moment. Thieves are watching!

9) Romance scams: Everyone wants a special someone under the mistletoe, so holidays are prime time for scams. Be careful with an online sweetheart who gets cozy too fast or asks for money.

10) Fake coupons: Be cautious when downloading coupons. Always make sure you are at a retailer’s real website, and be careful with coupon sites that ask for personal info.

11) Malware e-cards: Viruses and malware often travel in email attachments or links. Don’t click on suspicious-looking e-cards or an email from someone you don’t know or a name you don’t recognize.

12) Gift card scams: Buying gift cards directly from brick and mortar stores is always safest. If you’re buying a gift card online, be sure to research the site to ensure that it’s reputable and be wary of individual sellers. It’s easy for online scammers to sell worthless cards, or even demonstrate a card is loaded but then drain the funds before it’s in your possession.

The best way to avoid problems is to research companies at bbb.org, or call (800) 646-6222 when you receive suspicious offers, and always watch out for deals too good to be true.
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