12 Scams of Christmas: What to Look For and How to Avoid Them
By BBB Serving Eastern Oklahoma. September 10, 2018.
The 2017 Thanksgiving weekend saw one million more Americans than last year out shopping and the holiday spending is just beginning. The National Retail Federation (NRF) expects this year’s holiday retail sales to top last year’s by 3.6 percent to 4 percent for a total between $678.75 billion to $682 billion. As shoppers set records on spending Better Business Bureau® urges consumers to be prepared for scammers looking to take a bit of your holiday cheer.
BBB® shares the 12 Scams of Christmas and ways to avoid and identify them:
1. Look-Alike Websites – Many consumers will see an increase in the number of email alerts announcing deals, gifts, and sales. While mailers can look legitimate, the links may lead to look-alike websites meant to trick you into entering private information or give scammers an opportunity to download malware onto your computer. To protect themselves, consumers should:
Review the sender’s address, as businesses will often send emails with a proprietary address, like @bbb.org;
Look for misspellings throughout the email;
Hover over links without clicking to see where they reroute;
Only enter sensitive information into a website that begins with "https" as the "s" informs you that it's secure and information entered is encrypted.
2. Social Media Gift Exchange – Purchasing one gift and receiving several in return may sound like a harmless way to give and receive presents, but this seasonal scam is a pyramid scheme, which is illegal.
3. Grandparent Scams – Scammers target seniors posing as a grandchild or other family member and claim they have been in an accident, arrested, hospitalized or another urgent issue. The circumstance often requires money be sent immediately to resolve. Targets should:
Verify the situation by calling the family member in question directly;
Check with other family members to see if the claims are true;
Be wary if you’re asked to wire money or send gift cards in place of making a payment with a credit card.
4. Temporary Holiday Jobs – Many businesses require a little extra help with the holiday rush and often seek temporary employees, but beware of fraudsters who attempt to glean personal information from applicants. Job seekers trying to avoid this scam should:
Apply for to the job in person or by going directly to the retailer's website (not following links);
Be wary of anyone requiring you to hand over personal information over the phone or online before meeting for an interview;
Be suspicious of a job that requires you to pay for equipment or software upfront.
5. Free Gift Cards – Who doesn't love free stuff especially around the holidays? Scammers hope to take advantage of that fondness through phishing emails and pop-up ads offering gift cards. If you come across one of these offers you should not:
Open the email as it can be a phishing attempt but, if you do, don't click the links. Instead, mark the email as SPAM or JUNK;
Share any personal information to receive the card as the scammers will use the information to steal your identity later;
Click the ad but close out of the app or program you are using, clear your history and turn on your ad blocker.
6. E-Cards – Christmas cards are sent out this time of year and while some friends and family may be going high-tech by using e-cards so are scammers. Spot a friendly e-card from a scam by looking for:
Whether or not the sender's name is easily visible;
Be wary if you are required to enter personal information to open the card;
Avoid opening any suspicious email but if you do and see an attachment that ends in “.exe” which indicates an execute command and could download a virus, do not open it.
7. Fake Shipping Notifications – Deliveries notifications can often be expected throughout the holiday season as many consumers go online to purchase gifts, but some of these announcements may be phishing scams. These false notification emails often use a legitimate businesses name and logo to trick you into opening the email and allowing thieves to gain access to personal information and passwords. Targets should know:
Most online vendors provide tracking information that can be used to verify where your items are and identify the delivery company;
You are not required to pay money to receive your package, that payment was made when you make your purchase;
Delivery services do not need personal information to deliver your items.
8. Phony Charities – Charities often get a boost this season as consumers are in the giving spirit but scammers seeking to take advantage can pose as charities or needy individuals soliciting donations. Here are a few tips for spotting scammers:
Look for sound-alike names
Verify Your Charity at Give.org
Review the charities website to make sure they specify their plans for donations and how they will be used to address the issues they claim to combat.
9. Letters From Santa – Many legitimate businesses offer personalized letters from Santa, but some copycat scammers are only looking to glean personal information from unsuspecting parents.
Be suspicious of unsolicited emails offering special prices or packages for letters from Santa.
Check bbb.org to verify the legitimacy of any company that offers letters from Santa.
10. Unusual Forms of Payments – When making your holiday purchases be wary of anyone asking for a strange form of payment as they often can't be traced or undone. These may include:
Prepaid debit or gift cards
11. Travel Scams – Traveling for the holidays can get expensive, and bargains may be tempting, but some offers may be scams that end up costing you more instead of helping you save. To avoid travel scams consumers should:
Be cautious when it comes to email offers, especially if it is from an unknown sender or company;
Never wire money to someone you don’t know;
Ask for references.
12. Puppy Scams – While a year-round issue, puppy scams hurt families seeking to add a family member to their household for the holidays. Puppy scams are often difficult to avoid as cute pictures, and good deals pull at the heartstrings and wallet. To prevent this fraud, consumers should:
Do an image search online of the photo given of your pet. If multiple websites pop-up, it’s probably a scam;
Know what prices to expect because if the cost seems too good to be true, it probably is;
Search bbb.org for accredited breeders and rescue shelters;
Never pay using a money order or via the Western Union or Moneygram, instead use a credit card, which will give you the added protection of being able to dispute the charges.
If you come across any of these scams this holiday season help protect yourself and others by:
Keeping a close eye on your financial statements and quickly dispute any unrecognized charges.
Submitting a report to BBB Scam Tracker
Filing a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)
Medicare Fraud Scam Offers Free Back or Knee Braces
Have you been offered a free knee brace from Medicare? Beware of this rampant scam that’s been going on. The scammers claim to be from Medicare or a medical warehouse, and some even say they were referred by your doctor or a caregiver. They ask for your Medicare number, and callers are pushy in trying to get your personal information. Some telemarketers will keep calling until they wear you down and you give in to whatever is being offered.
Free back or knee brace? It’s a scam
Whether it’s an “as seen on TV” ad or someone calling you claiming to be from Medicare, these are scams. The best way to get a new knee brace is to meet with a doctor face to face who can get you a properly fitting brace that will help relieve your pain.
It’s understandable to want a quick fix if you or a loved one is in pain, but understand that as soon as you call the number on your TV or tell a caller on the phone that you are in need of a knee brace or back brace, you are opening yourself up to more phone calls and attempts to get your information. Scammers call offering braces as well as other durable medical equipment (DME).
Why back and knee braces?
The reason these fraudsters are hawking back and knee braces is that Medicare will pay for them, as Medicare has not reduced its reimbursement amounts for these durable medical equipment items.
Here’s what happens
The back brace or knee brace that was billed as “free” is not free at all. Later, Medicare will be billed. Medicare gets a bill for the knee, back, or arm braces for thousands of dollars (each brace costs from $1,000 to $2,000), when in reality a back or knee brace costs far less than that.
Since Medicare receives over one billion claims per year, a live person only reviews about three percent of these claims. Medicare signs off on the claims and pays them.
Ads on TV
Abe Wischnia of Elliott.org paused the TV on a recording of an ad offering free back braces from Medicare, and he found a disclaimer in fine print that appeared for just a few seconds. It read as follows:
“By calling in, I confirm that this will serve as my signature authority for COMPANY and their customers to call me on my telephone at the number provided. I am aware of my rights to protect my privacy and these rights are waived for the purpose of COMPANY and their customers to call me. I consent to receive information on products not limited to spinal support braces and/or knee braces on this phone call or subsequent phone calls … I am permitting calls to be automatically dialed. … If I am on a do not call list, by opting in, I am waiving this right.”
You don’t know what you might get
Some callers asked for a back brace and received more than one, or received a back brace and two knee braces, or even more. To make matters worse, these braces are often low-quality and won’t last the 5 years it will take for Medicare to pay for a new one.
In the end, Medicare ends up getting charged for every item the person received. Overall, Medicare fraud costs American taxpayers $60 billion every year. Just on back braces, taxpayers spent nearly $108 million between 2010 and 2016.
How to mitigate Medicare fraud
Only answer the phone if it’s a caller that you know.
If you do answer the phone and it’s a solicitor, hang up. If it’s a postcard or email, discard it.
Turn off or disregard TV ads offering free back or knee braces.
If you do talk to the solicitor, tell them you’re going to report them for Medicare fraud and you’d like to be removed from their list.
Never give out your Medicare card number, Social Security number, birth date, bank account info, or credit card number to an unknown party. This goes for over the phone, on email, or on social media.
Always double check your Medicare statement for errors.
Report instances of fraud to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker.
If you are in need of a back or knee brace, or any medical device, see your doctor to get one prescribed to you. That way, it can be processed correctly through your Medicare or other insurance plan.