As many of us prepare for the holiday season, so too do fraudsters and scam artists taking advantage of our kindness.
“It’s definitely a busy time of the year with people being in the festive spirit, maybe even being a little more generous than normal,” says Simone Lis, the executive director of the B.C. Better Business Bureau.
“It’s also a great opportunity, because we’re so busy, to be the victim of a scam.”
And, a majority of those are being done through the internet, according to a recent survey done by the BBB.
“What we found is that almost two-thirds of the scams we were seeing were online focused, which isn’t surprising coming out Covid and just the overall increase of how much time we’re spending connected,” says Lis.
Each year, the organization releases its 12 Scams of Christmas, with many of the same deceptions and hoaxes coming to the forefront.
“The ones that stand out for me tend to be the things that are most prevalent – online shopping scams. Generally, what happens in those types of situations, a consumer is looking at their social media feed, not really paying attention, and then an advertisement catches their attention. They click on that advertisement and, before they know it, they’ve purchased or seen something on the screen that says they’ve purchased something.”
Lis said that numbers show, on average, a consumer is bilked out of just over $100 when tricked.
Annually, that number is close to $25 million Canada-wide, according to figures from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
“But, we know that fraud is under-reported,” she says.
“So, it could be that some of these smaller items could be weighing into some of the larger items. We also know that the age group at risk at this type of scam is at a higher loss, people 18-24.”
Seniors and the elderly also remain at a very high risk to be taken by scammers, and while technology has been a blessing, in some respects, it’s also been a curse.
“You can get call display on your phones, but scam artists have technology that spoofs real legitimate phone numbers,” adds Lis.
“So, it’s really about doing things like registering [your parents] from Do Not Call lists, telling them not to enter draws when they go to trade or consumer shows, because often that’s a way to get added to a contact list.”
Even better, Lis suggests, is going through mail, emails, and online activity with the person to see red flags.
“That might be something like getting an alert about a compromised account through organizations like PayPal or Netflix or bank accounts. It might catch their attention more, than you, who might just delete them.”
The leading advice: know who you’re dealing with for any kind of online or over-the-phone purchase, never give out personal or credit information unless it’s with a bonafide source, and if you feel intimidated or threatened by a phone call, simply hang up.
You can also report any suspicious activity to your nearest authority, like the RCMP, or the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
Below are this year’s top 12 scams:
1. Misleading social media ads:
As you scroll through your social media feed, you often see products advertised. Always research before you buy. The Better Business Bureau receives daily reports of people paying for items that they never receive, getting charged monthly for a free trial they never signed up for, or receiving an item that is counterfeit or much different from the one advertised. Before ordering, check out the business profile on BBB.org and read the reviews.
2. Social media gift exchanges:
Each holiday season this scheme pops back up. A newer version of this scam revolves around exchanging bottles of wine; another suggests purchasing $10 gifts online. Another twist asks you to submit your email into a list where participants get to pick a name and send money to strangers to "pay it forward." In all of these versions, participants unwittingly share their personal information. It’s an illegal pyramid scheme.
3. Holiday apps:
Apple's App Store and Google Play list dozens of holiday-themed apps where children can video chat live with Santa, light the menorah, watch Santa feed live reindeer, track his sleigh on Christmas Eve, or relay their holiday wish lists. Review privacy policies to see what information will be collected. Be wary of free apps. They can also be embedded with malware or spyware.
4. Alerts about compromised accounts:
Claims that your Amazon, Paypal, Netflix or bank account has been compromised. Victims receive an email, call, or text message which explains that there has been suspicious activity on one of their accounts, and it further urges them to take immediate action to prevent the account from being compromised. Be extra cautious about unsolicited calls, emails, and texts. Never give out personal information!
5. Free gift cards:
Nothing brings good cheer like the word "FREE." Scammers have been known to take advantage of this weakness by sending bulk phishing emails requesting personal information to receive free gift cards. In some of these emails, scammers impersonate legitimate companies and promise gift cards to reward their loyal customers. They may also use pop-up ads or send text messages with links. Never click on the links.
6. Temporary holiday jobs:
Retailers typically hire seasonal workers to help meet the demands of holiday shoppers. Shippers and delivery services are top holiday employers this year because of the increase in online orders and the need to get most of these packages delivered before Christmas. These jobs are a great way to make extra money, sometimes with the possibility of turning into a long-term employment opportunity. However, job seekers need to be wary of employment scams aimed at stealing money and personal information from job applicants. Keep an eye out for opportunities that seem too good to be true.
7. Look-alike websites:
The holiday season brings endless emails offering deals, sales, and bargains. Be wary of emails with links enclosed. Some may lead to look-alike websites created by scammers to trick people into downloading malware, making dead-end purchases, and sharing private information. If you are uncertain about the email, do not click any of the links. Instead, hover over them to see where they reroute.
8. Fake charities:
The last few weeks of the year is a busy time for charitable donations. Look out for fraudulent charities and scammers pretending to be individuals in need. Avoid impromptu donation decisions to unfamiliar organizations. Responsible organizations will welcome a gift tomorrow as much as they do today. Where possible, donate to the charity through their website and use a credit card for record-keeping.
9. Fake shipping notifications:
More consumers are making purchases online, and there is also an increase in the number of notifications about shipping details from retailers and carriers. Scammers are using this new surge to send phishing emails with links enclosed that may allow unwanted access to your private information or download malware onto your device. They may also try to trick people into paying new shipping fees.
10. Pop-up holiday virtual events:
Many local in-person events such as pop-up holiday markets or craft fairs, have moved online. Scammers are creating fake event pages, social media posts, and emails, charging admission for what used to be a free event. The goal is to steal credit card information. Confirm with the organizer of the event if there is an admission fee. Use a credit card. And, if the event is free, watch for scammers trying to claim otherwise.
11. Top holiday wishlist items:
Low priced luxury goods, jewelry, designer clothing, and electronics are almost always cheap counterfeits and knockoffs. The same applies for popular toys. This year: Squishmallows, Magic Mixies Magical Misting Snap Circuits, and Breyer Horses Unicorn Magic Wood Stable are some of the items in high demand. Be very cautious when considering purchasing these popular toys from resellers on social media platforms.
12. Puppy/Kitten scams:
Many families consider adding a furry friend to their household at this time of year. However, be on the lookout for scams. Many would-be pet owners turn to the internet, but experts say a shocking 80% of sponsored pet advertisements may be fake. Be sure to see the pet in person before making a purchase. Also, consider adopting from an animal shelter as another option – many have a visit to vet covered in the adoption fee.