Holiday Scams: The 12 Dismays of Christmas

Consumer Reports

With Christmas just 10 days away and Hanukkah even sooner, it’s no wonder that most of us are feeling harried and distracted. But don’t take leave of your senses. Thieves and scammers celebrate the season by taking advantage of people who don’t have time to give things the usual scrutiny. Here are 12 top holiday ripoffs and advice on how to avoid them from the Better Business Bureau.

Travel trip-ups. Vacation scams cost consumers over $10 billion each year. Watch out for unexpected hotel and flight "confirmation" or "cancellation" notices, which trick consumers into clicking unsafe links to "stop" reservations that you didn’t make in the first place.

Don’t broadcast your whereabouts. When shopping or vacationing, don't become a target for theft. Guard belongings, be observant and pack lightly. Avoid broadcasting your travel plans on social networks—burglars lurk there too.

Charitable misgivings. Charitable solicitation scams often increase in November and December, when holiday themed drives are abundant. Be skeptical of solicitors who use high pressure tactics, won't answer basic donation questions or can't provide proof of the charity’s affiliation. Invoices for past due payments are another common gambit.

[See also: 5 Super Stocking Stuffers for Under $10]

Gift cards that take. Avoid purchasing gift cards from disreputable third parties and examine them closely for terms, restrictions, fees and expiration dates. Use any cards you receive early as they may become non-redeemable if retailers go out of business.

A ‘free offer’ may cost you. Dodge deceptive deals and "free" offers on desirable toys, jewelry and electronics in auctions, classified ad sites, social media posts, pop-up ads, online coupons, sweepstakes and surveys.

Don’t take credit you don't deserve. During the big spending season, discard ads, shred offers for high-interest credit cards, and avoid costly layaway programs and payday loan traps.

Job offers that don’t work. You may want to earn a little extra money but abstain from limited-time job offers for high-paying mystery shopping gigs and online work-at-home tasks. "Employers" may steal data from applications, fail to send start-up materials or induce paycheck money transfer schemes.

Don’t let Santa invade your privacy. There are more than 60 domain names registered in the name of Santa Claus. Steer away if a Santa website requests unnecessary personal data, doesn't abide by advertising laws or fails to disclose contact details and privacy policies.

Dodgy downloads. Dangers may be hiding in holiday-themed articles, music, screensavers and other downloads. Before surfing the Web, social media sites or reading your holiday e-mails, update anti-virus protection and check firewalls. Avoid shopping or banking online on unsecured Wi-Fi networks at public places, like airports and hotels.

Return to sender. Do not click links or attachments in e-cards and other holiday greetings from unfamiliar senders. Ensure your spam filters are set.

[See also: Must-Have Holiday Gadgets]

Don’t bank on it. Disregard sudden e-mails or text messages about issues with your bank account. Instead, contact your bank or financial institution directly to verify.

Special deliveries. Don't accept notices about delivery delays or confirmations on unordered packages; phishers often pose as well-known retailers or shipping companies to gain false credibility—and information.

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