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Christmas is a wonderful time for family, friends, gifts and great food – and, if you’re not careful, lots of Christmas scams.
The reason why scams are so popular during Christmas time is that people are generally in a positive mood and they’re eager to spend money online. Scams aren’t fun: they will steal your money or steal your personal and sensitive information, such as your credit cards, social security number, passwords and more.
That’s why we’ll be looking at the 13 biggest Christmas scams you should be looking for so you can have a holly, jolly Christmas.
#1 Fake online shopping stores
There are a lot of fake shops that will be popping up online this Christmas season. These websites will usually offer you some great deal, like a 90% off deal on some expensive product.
The only problem? They don’t have that product. They don’t sell anything but empty promises and whole nightmares, seeing as you’ll enter your payment information and get absolutely nothing back.
One way to check: the website domain will include HTTPS, not just HTTP, as well as a lock symbol, which mean the website is more secure.
If in doubt, always buy with a credit card, seeing as you can dispute charges if you do end up getting scammed.
#2 Look-alike websites
There will also be lots of fake websites this shopping season. It’s one of the most common Christmas scams: these are fake websites pretending to be real websites.
Instead of amazon.com, it’ll be “amaz0n.com,”or “amazonn.com,” or “amazon-shop-online.se,” or something along those lines. Before you buy anything online (for example, if you click a link on an ad or from social media), double-check the URL.
These fake, look-alike websites will look pretty much the same as the real website, except that you will just lose your money. Again, credit cards will help you here if you do end up getting scammed.
#3 Strange payment forms
One of the most important general tips to avoid Christmas scams is to pay by credit card. This recommendation applies here especially.
When some online shop or person asks you to pay for their products and services with non-traditional payment methods, watch out. These payment methods can include
- wire transfers
- gift cards
- prepaid debit cards
- unknown, third-party payment systems
These payment forms can’t be traced, and once payment is submitted you won’t ever see your money again. With credit cards, on the other hand, you’ll be able to dispute the charges and get your money back.
#4 Emergency contact scam
This scam pops up all throughout the year, but it goes into high gear during Christmas. This one is when you get a call or email from a family member claiming that they were in some emergency situation and they need your help immediately.
Usually, they have one of these situations while traveling in another country:
- they were involved in an accident
- they were arrested
- they were hospitalized
Of course, for the call to work, it would have to be a distant relative that you’re not really in touch with regularly. Often, they will break into people’s email accounts and send the same email to everyone in their contact list.
If you get one of these emails, be sure to call the person – or a friend or relative of the person – and ask if the story is true.
#5 Fake charities
This situation can also be with fake websites, or even real live phone calls. Usually, scammers are hoping to take advantage of people’s generous Christmas moods.
That’s why they’ll contact people making solicitations for charities by call, text message, email or even social media pages. These can be fake charities – like the Mistreated Animal Helpers of West Bangalore – or real charity names, but of course the money will never reach that real organization.
Before giving to a charity, check if the charity is real. Then, contact the charity directly to donate.
#6 Amazing temporary Christmas jobs
There are lots of real temporary jobs during this shopping season. And there are also a lot of fake, Christmas scam temporary “jobs.”
If you’re eager to make a little cash, you’ll probably jump at an appealing offer that includes large sums of money, huge hourly rates, free clothing, and other great benefits.
But usually these Christmas job scams will ask you for either money upfront or your personal information. Don’t apply online or on the phone. Just go to the store in person or to their certified website.
#7 Free gift cards
You’ll see this around the internet throughout the year, but it definitely ramps up during the holiday season. Since it’s pretty easy to set up as well, it’s also one of the longest-running Christmas scams.
In this one, you’ll see a popup offering you free gift cards to Amazon, Walmart, Target, etc. All you’ll have to do is give up your personal information, usually in the form of a “survey.”
That survey will ask you for your emails, phone numbers, birthdate, even credit card numbers. Sometimes they’ll even ask you to first buy something before you can use the offer.
#8 Social media gift scam
This is one of the many pyramid schemes making its way through social media circles. Basically, you’re supposed to enter some social media gift exchange, where you buy just one gift, and you can get 36 gifts in return.
At this point, it probably doesn’t need to be said but, here’s the twist: you’re not getting anything back.
Don’t do it.
#9 Puppy scam
Yes, puppies. You’re thinking the perfect give for your little son or daughter is one of those beautiful Golden Retriever puppies jumping out of a Christmas gift box, like they do in the movies.
And so you see a Facebook page or (fake) website selling puppies for cheap, and probably with fast drop-off or other great conditions.
You won’t get any puppies. Buy puppies from authorized breeders, or get in the Christmas spirit and go to a shelter.
#10 Messenger extension scam
In this more-technical Christmas scam, you’ll get a message in the Messenger app containing some photo. This image, in the form of an SVG (not the usual JPG), is infected.
It probably won’t show up in preview, so you’ll click on it. Then it redirects you to a fake Youtube and says that if you want to watch the video you’ll need to download a Chrome extension. Guess what that extension does?
It will peacefully sit in the background, recording everything you do and enter:
- usernames and passwords
- favorite websites
- online banking details
It can also redirect you to fake PayPal, Amazon or other websites.
#11 Blessing Loom
Another pyramid scheme – this one in the form of an image. The Blessing Loom asks you to take part of a campaign where you enter your name on a loom and get money.
In order to enter your name, it will cost you about $100, but when you recruit two more people, you’ll get $800.
Sounds almost too good to be true.
Pyramid schemes never work, but they sound complicated and crazy enough that people just usually fall for them. Don’t.
#12 Christmas package delivery scam
This is one of the bigger Christmas scams on the list, only because the timing is perfect. People are ordering a lot of stuff from online shops, so they’ll be expecting notifications from their local post office.
In this scam, you’ll be getting a fake email from the post office. They’ll ask you to click on the link or button in order to get your undelivered package. Of course, that link goes to someplace bad, or most often will contain malware.
This can install spyware on your computer, which will steal your banking details and credit card info when you do your holiday shopping.
#13 Amazon Prime membership Christmas scam
One of the many Amazon Christmas scams will let you know by email that you purchased a Prime membership for about 6 or 12 months. In order to cancel the automatic renewal, you can just click on a link or a button.
The email will look like it came from Amazon, with the same design elements. But, of course, when you click on that link you’ll be redirected to a fake login page.
Once you enter your login and account info, it will go to the scammers who can then use that for identity theft, financial theft, or to be sold to other criminals.
Have a holly, jolly, scam-free Christmas
By knowing about these Christmas scams, you should be able to avoid them. But this list is unfortunately not complete: new scams are popping up every Christmas.
Only you are the last best defense, and we can come up with two general rules to help keep you safe:
- use a credit card to make online payments
- always check links and URLs
- if it’s too good to be true, it is
That should cover you for now.
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Jan is a cybersecurity and consumer protection specialist focused on investigations that help readers navigate the complex infosecurity sphere. His research and commentary has been featured in Forbes, ComputerWeekly, PC Mag, TechRadar, ZDNet, The Mirror, Entrepreneur, and many other leading publications around the world.