The 12 scams of Christmas: a BBB warning for the holidays

By Dennis Horton 
Guest Contributor 

There are scams for all seasons including Christmas; yes, Virginia…there are people who target consumers with holiday-themed scams. This is a joyous time of the year but, when desperation sets in, shoppers can easily mistake a phony e-card or fake charity for the real thing.

When consumers let their guard down they become the perfect target for fly-by-night Internet merchants, phishers and charitable imposters; and each year at Christmas they lose millions of dollars to scam artist who rip them off.”

Here’s the scammer’s naughty list for 2016:

Secret Sister Exchange: A social media scam that claims if you buy a $10 gift and send it to a “secret sister,” you will receive anywhere from six to 36 in return. This is a variation on “pyramid schemes” and it’s illegal.

Help Scams: Calls to unsuspecting relatives or friends from imposters who claim to be a grandchild, niece, nephew or friend, who is traveling, and they need emergency financial help to cover medical or legal expenses.

Seasonal Travel Scams: Whether it’s a promise of a free or discounted trip, phony rental listings, or con men telling timeshare sellers they’ve got a buyer lined up, scammers are working to rip you off. Check out any offers of great travel deals.

Point-of-sale Malware: is malicious software expressly written to steal customer payment data – especially credit card data – from retail checkout systems. Check your credit card statements to make sure you don’t have unwanted charges as a result of a point-of-sale breach of your credit security.

Phony charities: ‘Tis the season to donate, but be wary of fake charities. Do your research and double check the site URL. Check out charities at

Fake coupons: Avoid the unwanted gift of malware and always verify that e-cards or coupons are from someone you know and are from a trustworthy site.

Fake shipping notifications: Think twice before clicking links in shipping notification emails. Always verify the shipping company before giving out your personal information.

ATM Skimmers: The typical ATM skimmer is a device smaller than a deck of cards that fits over the existing card reader. It is essentially a malicious card reader that grabs the data off the card’s magnetic stripe so that the thief can harvest data from every person that swipes their cards.

Fake Romance: Scammers create fake online profiles using photos of other people — even stolen pictures of real military personnel. They profess their love quickly. And they tug at your heartstrings with made-up stories about how they need money — for emergencies, hospital bills, or travel.

Fake Apps/phony e-tailers: Today, smartphones act not only as a phone but also a credit card, house key, camera and more. Malware can access your device via apps.  Do your research and stick to official app stores when downloading.

Free gift cards: Pop-up ads or emails offering free gift cards are often just a ploy to get your personal information that can later be used for identity theft.

Phishing emails: Be wary unexpected deals or product promotions from stores or sellers you have never dealt with. There will be people trying to take advantage of buyers where the victim could be subject to phishing tactics or just stolen money for an order that will never come in.

To find trustworthy businesses at no cost and for more important consumer information visit

Dennis Horton is the Director of the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau.

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