The holidays are a happy time for family and friendship, but they are also a time for fraud. Consumers can fall into any number of traps over the holidays and become victim to identity thieves, hackers and deceptive merchants online.
The Better Business Bureau is warning holiday shoppers and donors to look out for five common scams this season:
Scam shopping sites online
We're all looking for a great deal online, but some sites offer electronics or luxury goods at prices that are too good to be true. Every holiday season BBB hears from holiday shoppers who paid for a supposedly great deal online, but received nothing in return.
BBB advice: Always look for the BBB seal when shopping online and click on the seal to confirm it is legitimate. When shopping on sites that aren't household names, check with your BBB before you buy.
Untrustworthy sellers online
Every year, holiday shoppers fight over the "must have" toy or gadget of the season. When the item is sold out in stores, you can often find it online through sites like Craigslist or eBay-for a much steeper price. The problem is that some sellers will take your money and run.
BBB Advice: Never wire money as payment. When purchasing items on auctions like eBay, research the seller extensively and always listen to your doubts if the deal doesn't sound legit.
Identity theft at the mall
While you're struggling at the mall with bags of presents, identity thieves see an opportunity to steal your wallet and debit or credit card numbers.
BBB Advice: Don't let yourself get bogged down in purchases and lose track of your wallet. Know where your credit and debit cards are at all times and cover the keypad when entering your pin number while purchasing items or getting money from the ATM.
Bogus charitable pleas
The holidays are a time of giving which creates a great opportunity for scammers to solicit donations to line their own pockets. Also beware of solicitations from charities that don't necessarily deliver on their promises or are ill-equipped to carry through on their plans.
BBB Advice: Always research a charity with the BBB Wise Giving Alliance before you give to see if the charity meets the Standards for Charity Accountability.
Phishing e-mails are a common way for hackers to get at your personal information or break into your computer. Common phishing e-mails around the holidays include e-cards and messages pretending to be from companies like UPS or Fedex with links to package tracking information.
BBB Advice: Don't click on any links or open any attachments to e-mails until you have confirmed that they are not malicious. E-mail addresses that don't match up, typos and grammatical mistakes are common red flags of a malicious phishing e-mail. Also beware of unsolicited e-mails from companies with which you have no association. Make sure you have current antivirus software and that all security patches have been installed on the computer.
For more advice on being a savvy consumer this holiday season, visit the website easternmichigan.bbb.org/Consumer-Tips/.