Holiday scams on the Internet, at the mall, at the register and even at your front door: Internet Scambusters #311
Today we have a Special Issue for you on holiday scams.
The festive season should be a time of celebration — so you
obviously don’t want to spoil it by falling victim to holiday
scams. Busy, high-spending times are precisely the opportunity
crooks look for to try to trick you out of your money or steal
Many holiday scams are variations of tricks you may encounter
at any time of the year. In this issue, we highlight the 7
most common areas where they’re likely to strike, with the
most frequent trick in each group and a list of other seasonal
scams to watch out for. Be sure you don’t miss #5, especially
First, we suggest you check out this week’s issue of Scamlines
— What’s New in Scams?
Next, we recommend you check out the most popular
articles from our other sites during the past week:
Answers to 7 of the Biggest Questions About Expressive Nature Photography:
An Interview With Brenda Tharp. Expert photographer Brenda Tharp’s perspective, experience and teaching abilities will enhance your expressive nature photography skills and creativity.
Credit Card Scams You Need to Know About: Know what to look for in credit card scams and how to avoid the threats around you.
Why Today’s Job Seekers Should Put the Internet to Good Use: Facts on using the Internet for seeking jobs in today’s online and offline world.
Are You Ready for Black Friday Shopping this Year? Take advantage of Black Friday’s steals and deals this year.
Making Good Photo Mugs Better: The Perfect Photo Gifts. Guarantee that your photo mugs will stand out this year from the rest with these in the know tips.
Follow these Christmas Food Superstitions for Good Luck in the New Year: Pay attention to these Christmas food superstitions and bring some luck into the coming year.
On to today’s Special Issue…
The 7 Key Types of Holiday Scams to Watch Out For This Christmas Season
Despite the economic downturn, Internet shopping may well hit
record levels this holiday season, opening the door to a host
of both new and well practiced holiday scams.
But scammers are going to be busy, not just on the Internet
but at the mall, at the airport, at the register and even at
your front door.
It’s bonanza time for them, as they take advantage of the
seasonal hustle and bustle.
Last year, we produced our list of the Top 5 Christmas Season Scams. We recommend you check that out again for some useful
pointers and tips.
But even in the 12 months since then, things have moved on.
Internet fraud and identity theft have become even more
widespread, and tricksters out on Main Street and Your Street
have become sharper than ever.
We’ve grouped this year’s list of holiday scams under 7
headings — for the areas you’re most likely to encounter the
1. Internet holiday scams
The main scam: It was our Number One holiday scam last time
but now it’s bigger than ever. By far the fastest-growing
online holiday scam is the setting up of bogus websites
offering just about everything you could want for Christmas,
especially those hard to find gifts, at fantastic bargain
You do a search for a gift you’re planning to buy and suddenly
you find it way cheaper than you had imagined. The website
sales page looks professional, often bristling with
testimonials from supposedly satisfied customers and logos
suggesting top-line security.
These sites are easy to set up and the number has mushroomed
in the past year, hosted all over the world.
As we previously warned, scammers will not only take your
money for something they won’t send you, they could also use
your credit card details to buy other stuff for themselves and
your personal details for identity theft.
How to avoid it: Don’t trust a site or name you don’t know —
check them out. Don’t fall for prices that are too good to be
true — they usually are. Use a one-time card number available
from some credit card companies to protect your financial
Also watch out for: Phony ads on auction sites; eGreetings
card links that take you to a bogus site or download malware
onto your computer; overpriced items or flashy illustrations
that lead you to think they’re higher quality or better
products than they really are; counterfeit designer label
2. Charity-related holiday scams
The main scam: Holidays are just the best time for scammers to
tug on our heartstrings. And the most likely place you’ll
encounter them is when they rattle a collection box in front
of you either as you do your shopping or at your front door.
They may use all kinds of props to fool you, wearing seasonal
costumes, dressed in familiar uniforms, wearing badges or
carrying some other kind of bogus authorization. Often too,
scammers use kids to convince you they’re genuine.
How to avoid it: If you don’t have time to check out how
genuine the collector is, simply don’t give. If you want to
help them, find the charity name and donate directly. Look for
Salvation Army and other collectors actually inside stores —
they’re a safer bet.
Also watch out for: Telephone solicitations (how can you
possibly know the caller is who they say they are, and why on
earth would you give them your credit card number?) and
sellers at your doorstep who show you a charity catalog, take
your money and never come back.
3. Holiday scams in the mall
The main scam: Crowds mean rich rewards for pickpockets. If
they steal your wallet, they’ll have not only your money but
also your credit cards and personal information that could
lead to identify theft.
With a quick bump or, more often these days, a distraction
from an accomplice, they can remove your wallet from your
pocket or purse in seconds.
But why stop there? They’ll take any accessible gift from your
shopping bags too.
How to avoid it: Keep your wallet inside a closed purse or in
a pocket with your hand on it. Leave non-essential identifying
information and spare credit cards at home. Return frequently
with gifts to your car and lock them out of sight in the
trunk. If someone calls for your attention, protect your
Also watch out for: Charity collectors as mentioned above;
people hovering around you as you pay; temporary stores or
booths whose operators may disappear after Christmas, leaving
you unable to return goods; offers of “cheap” items from
someone who approaches you in the parking lot.
4. Holiday scams at the cash register
The mains scams: Actually, there are two here, depending on
which side of the counter you’re standing.
If you’re a shopper, beware of being short-changed, either
intentionally or unintentionally. Both are easy to do in the
frantic atmosphere at the cash register at this time of year.
And if you’re the cashier, beware the flimflam, in which the
scammer gives you a high-value bill then tries to change it
for a smaller one and generally messes around until you lose
track of what’s going on. Again, there’s often an accomplice.
How to avoid them: Have a fairly clear idea of the total cost
before you go to the register and, if you can’t make the right
money, know what size of bill you’ll use and how much change
to expect. Don’t move away from the register until you’ve
checked your change and your receipt.
If you’re a cashier, simply don’t allow yourself to be
pressured at the register. If you feel yourself getting
confused, call a halt and, if necessary, call a supervisor.
Also watch out for: Sleight of hand, where the person you’re
paying switches your high value bill for a lower one and
complains you haven’t given enough cash; some of your
purchased items are not placed in the store bag; the cashier
doesn’t return your credit card; forged $20 bills; people
(pickpockets) standing too close to you in line.
5. Holiday scams in your home
The main scam: Well, as mentioned above, bogus charity
collectors may come knocking at your door this festive season.
But one of the newer scams seen this year that’s likely to
take advantage of Christmas activities is the “parcel-waiting”
You get a card through your door saying an unsuccessful
attempt was made to deliver a package to your home and that
you should call a particular number for more details.
You might reasonably be expecting a parcel at this time of
year, so you call the number and get a recorded message or
music that keeps you on the line for a while.
In fact, you’ve connected to a premium line or overseas
service, which will be charged at exorbitant rates on your
next phone bill, like the 809 scam.
Or you may be asked to provide personal information that could
be used for identity theft, or to give information that would
let a thief know when you’re going to be out.
How to avoid it: Check the name of the company on the
Internet. Also check online lists of overseas phone codes. If
the number is not a 1-800 or local call, it may well be a
scam. Don’t give out personal details over the phone to
someone you don’t know, and don’t tell them when you’re going
to be away from your home.
Also watch out for: Unexpected checks that arrive just in time
for your shopping (they’re bogus and will be accompanied by a
request for you to forward part of the cash in a Moneygram);
products arrive that you didn’t order (you’ll be contacted
later by someone who asks you to forward it — it’s probably
stolen and you’re the middle-person).
6. Holiday scams out and about
The main scam: The holiday season is just about the most
popular time for special events — shows, sports, concerts and
other events — so it’s a great opportunity for ticket forgers
or bogus ticket sales.
These often show up online (auction and classified type ads),
in newspapers and, in the case of forged tickets, outside the
How to avoid it: Ideally, buy only from venues or recognized
agencies. If you do buy from an individual, get their phone
number and home address and check them out. If you can, find
out where they work. Check online and with the venue if there
have been any reports of forged or bogus sales.
Also watch out for: If you’re traveling, beware of some of the
airport and travel scams we’ve covered in previous Scambusters
7. Work-related holiday scams
The main scam: Even in these economically-troubled times, many
retailers and manufacturers need to take on extra staff to
handle the Christmas rush. And since many of us are equally
hard-pressed for cash, we’re only too eager to find seasonal
Knowing this, spammers send out emails promising non-existent
jobs for which, if you follow the ads up, you’ll be asked to
pay a commission or fee for the job. You may see similar ads
in newspaper classifieds and even flyers or signs posted
Even if the job exists, you may be conned into working for
nothing — with the promise of a generous payment at the end,
which never comes — or you could even find yourself caught up
in some of the scams we’ve outlined here.
How to avoid it: Never pay for a job. Even legitimate agencies
that earn their money by finding work earn their fees from
employers not employees. Be wary if it’s a “work now, get paid
later” job — check out the employer’s credentials.
Also look out for bogus work-at-home jobs and learn about the
top 10 work-at-home scams, and providing your personal details to
someone you don’t know who says they’ll employ you (they may
We want you to have a great holiday season — and not get
taken by holiday scams. So, always be on your guard, pass on
the tips we’ve given here to a couple of your friends and
family members — and enjoy a Happy Holiday!
Time to close — we’re off to take a walk. For our US
subscribers, we want to wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving.
See you next week.