Don’t Get Scrooged by These 20 Holiday Scams

If you're not the paranoid type, you might be after you read this article. Be familiar with these scams so your shopping adventures don't lead you down a dark alley.

Retailers do big business during December, but so do thieves. With so much money flowing freely, con artists are out in full force.

Here’s a monster list of 20 scams making the rounds this holiday season.

Holiday shopping scams

We’re all trying to spend less on our holiday gifts, and our eagerness to save a buck is at the root of many of these scams. Others feed off a particular item or brand’s popularity and use some high-tech sleight of hand to get you to make your purchase in the wrong place.

  • Fake coupons for sale: Before we get to scam websites, let’s start with scam deals. Any good bargain shopper knows that coupons and coupon codes may be needed to get the best prices. At the same time, savvy shoppers should also know never to pay for one of those coupons or codes. Not only is selling a coupon against most manufacturer terms of use, but you might also find yourself embarrassed if you go on national TV using counterfeit coupons.
  • Cheap luxury goods: A $50 Rolex should set off alarms in your head. Some cons set up bogus websites for popular holiday gifts. These items come up in search results, and the cheap price lures shoppers in. Then, they either take your money and run or take your money and send you a cheap knockoff not worth the money you spent.
  • EBay and Craigslist scams: Other thieves can’t be bothered to set up their own website, so they use eBay or Craigslist instead. Different venue, but you’ll find the same racket as above. Either they’ll never send you the item or send you a cheap piece of junk. Be sure to check feedback before buying on eBay. If you buy on Craigslist, never have the seller ship the item. Always meet in person in a public place and take along a friend for good measure.
  • Counterfeit websites: Now we come to the big guns. These are the scam artists who are taking it to a whole new level by copying the websites of popular brands. Although these sites look impressive, there’s typically something off about them – usually typos, or grammar that sounds like a British nanny wrote the web copy (“Kindly enter your credit card information.”). If you aren’t sure about a website’s legitimacy, call the toll-free number listed. Typically, scammers use the company’s actual number. The customer service rep can then either verify whether you’re on the real website or take your order over the phone.

Gift card scams

Gift cards have been the most requested holiday gift nine years running, according to the National Retail Federation. The industry group reports nearly 60 percent of people say they’d like to receive a gift card, and shoppers will spend an average of $153 on them in 2015. All told, we’ll shell out nearly $26 billion to give little pieces of plastic to the ones we love this December. Wouldn’t thieves just love to get in on that action?

Oh, rest assured, they do, using these common gift card scams.

  • Bogus discount gift cards: There are legitimate websites selling discounted gift cards – Gift Card Granny and Cardpool are two – but there are plenty of fake sites out there selling worthless cards. To help keep you from getting taken for a ride, we have a whole article dedicated to the ins and outs of discounted gift cards.
  • “Used” gift cards in the store: A lot of stores make it easy for you to buy gift cards. They have giant racks containing dozens of cards in their center aisle or near the registers. Unfortunately, they are also making it easy for thieves to steal from you. Most cards today have a scratch-off area on the back that contains a PIN or other number needed to redeem the card. Thieves scratch it off, write down the number and then call the toll-free number regularly while waiting for the card to be purchased and activated. Once it is, they drain the card’s balance. Protect yourself by double-checking the back of the card for any signs of tampering before buying.

Package scams

When it comes to scams involving packages, there are two common types: those involving physical theft and those involving identity theft.

  • Package delivery scams: Are these emails already filling your inbox: A package is on its way. Hooray! Now, click this link, fill in all your personal information and we’ll arrange for its delivery. Except there’s no package, and the website is simply collecting your personal data. A variation of this scam involves a “missed package” note left on your door. You’re supposed to call a number to make arrangements for its delivery, but again, there’s no package and they’re fishing for information. To protect yourself, call the company’s main toll-free number found on its website to confirm the package. If the notice looks official and you call, hang up right away if the person on the other end starts asking personal questions. Remember, they don’t need your credit card number, birthday or Social Security number to deliver a package.
  • Stolen packages: The second scam is a little harder to prevent. The news is full of reports of thieves stealing packages right off people’s porches. In some cases, the criminals follow along behind delivery trucks and scoop up goods all along their route. The best defense is to require a signature for package delivery whenever possible.


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