Holiday fraud: How to avoid seasonal scammers


polic lineup with santa, Rudolph the Reindeer and a pretty elf

If it’s December, it’s prime holiday fraud season!

Because it’s the busiest season of the year, scammers work double time to try to maximize their take. And as many times as we’ve issued warnings, thieves are very creative about thinking up sneaky new ways to separate you from your money. The Better Business Bureau is on the case. Here are some of the top scams they see around the holidays.

Delivery scams and package thefts this holiday season – While just plain old theft of shipped packages from your doorstep or workplace is common, there are a few other things to watch out for. BBB says that phishing emails pose as official notices from delivery companies. These either contain a “tracking link” or a message that the shipper is having difficulty delivering a package to you with a number to call. Or they affix fake “missed delivery” tags on your door, asking you to call a phone number to reschedule your delivery – all are just ruses to get your personal information.

Social media ad scams – Last year, the BBB found that online purchase scams were the most common cons reported to Scam Tracker and the category with the most victims, many involving Facebook and Instagram ads. Watch out for products claiming to support charity, free trial offers, counterfeit merchandise and apps of unknown origin. Social media is also a hub for illegal gift exchange pyramid schemes. BBB says these pop up every year with new twists. When an offer seems too good to be true, it almost always is.

Is that Santa App safe? Better check it twice. BBB says that the Apple and Google app stores list tons of holiday-themed apps: children can video chat live with Santa himself, light the menorah, watch Santa feed live reindeer, track his sleigh on Christmas Eve, relay electronic Christmas wish-lists, or play Hanukkah games like dreidel. But many of these are invasive and may violate children’s privacy laws in the information they collect. For more, see our post on protecting your kids from ID theft.

Don’t get scammed out of a gift card this season – the BBB says “Before grabbing a gift card for a favorite store or restaurant, know that thieves are just as eager to use these gift cards before they’re presented to the intended recipient. Also, some retailers have terms and conditions as to how the gift card can be redeemed.” See our post about new consumer protections for prepaid debit cards.

Tips for avoiding job scams this holiday season – Many of us are looking for extra money over the holidays and a part-time seasonal job is a common way to earn that cash. But it’s also a time when scammers exploit that desire. BBB reminds you that legit employers will never ask for payment upfront for a job. They say to be wary of big money for small jobs and job offers that don’t require an interview.

8 Tips for dealing with holiday pop-up shops – BBB receives hundreds of complaints a year about temporary retail locations, reporting everything from poor quality merchandise to difficulty obtaining refunds after temporary stores have closed their doors. Pop-up shops can be fun but follow BBB’s tips in mind if you choose to buy from one of them.

See more holiday safety tips from the BBB and use their Scam Tracker to identify common scams near you.

Here are prior posts about more common holiday fraud schemes:

 

Last-Minute Halloween Liability Issues


costumed kids trick or treating

Halloween is scary enough, we don’t mean to add to your fright, but if you are a homeowner or an apartment dweller, there are some safety precautions you should take to greet the little ghosts and goblins who will be ringing your bell or roaming the streets.

A few years ago, Christopher Boggs wrote a great Guide to Homeowners Liability for Injury to Trick or Treaters. He notes:

When the porch light is on, trick-or-treaters are considered invitees; the homeowner is inviting them onto the property (though not for a mutual benefit). Because of this relationship, the homeowner owes the candy seekers the level of “reasonable” care that falls under Ordinary Negligence.

Now anytime you have anyone visit your home, they could suffer an injury or an accident – that’s why you have insurance. But on Halloween, a steady stream of small feet traipsing across your porch in the dark increases the risk. Plus, you are giving out food.

Here are some tips to minimize Halloween hazards and reduce your risk.

  • Keep porches and walkways well-lit and free of debris and clutter that might be tripping hazards
  • Put reflective tape on your steps and along your walkway
  • When decorating, avoid candles – use LED lights and battery-powered lights instead.
  • Keep pets away from kids to avoid bites, scares or allergic reactions. Even friendly pets can be overexcited or upset by the unusual activity and may be skittish or overly protective.
  • Avoid mystery treats. Distribute labeled treats and tell parents what they are and if they contain nuts.
  • Provide alternative allergy-free treats – consider small non-food trinkets.
  • Be cautious about any spooky pranks for kids or guests – make sure they are safe and not too scary to young children.
  • If you are hosting an adult party, you have particular responsibility to take care in the serving of alcoholic beverages. See our post on holiday parties and liability issues.
  • If you are driving any time on Halloween, be super cautious. Little monsters may be out at any hour and frequenting normally quiet neighborhoods. Be particularly cautious at dusk an early evening.

Protect your home and car too!

Halloween is a huge night for vandalism. Here are a few tips to protect your property from fire, theft and vandalism.

    • Don’t overload electrical circuits with lights.
    • Paper and dried plant decorations can easily ignite. Keep them away from flames, lights, and electrical cords.
    • Lock up bicycles, gas grills and other outdoor valuables.
    • Park your car in a garage, if possible. Mischief makers may egg your house or car.
    • If you don’t have shelter for your car, consider stopping at the car wash for a coat of wax that may offer some protection.
    • If you are out trick or treating with your kids or partying with your peers, make your home looks occupied. Leave lights and the TV on.
    • Doorbell cams and motion activated lights can offer added protection.
    • If your car or home is egged, deal with it right away that night or in the morning before damage can set in. See How to Remove Egg Stains From Your Car’s Paint Job and 4 Ways to Wash Egg off your home

    Call your agent

    If you should suffer any damage to your property or have any accidents during Halloween weekend, file a claim as soon as possible to get the claim process in motion. Be ready with the details of where and when the event occurred, along with the names and addresses of any injured parties or witnesses to the event. If there is damage to your property, report it to the police, take photos, and record the details so you won’t forget them later.

When should you book your holiday flights? Experts say right now!


Santa as pilot of the plane

OK. We know that the leaves haven’t turned yet, and the smell of pumpkin spice is barely wafting through the air. We aren’t even in Halloween prime time yet. We assure you, we aren’t trying to rush things, but we’d like to offer some seriously good advice: If you plan to fly someplace for the holidays – either for Thanksgiving or for the Christmas / Hanukkah / Kwanzaa window – it’s not too early to book your plane travel now. In fact, it may be the ideal time.

According to AAA Travel’s flight booking data from the last three years, Sept. 25 marks the start of the best booking window for air travel over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. It’s generally the best time for both availability and price deals. While it’s true that there are sometimes last-minute deals for travel, there is limited availability – so if you want the best availability and choice, start looking soon.

See AAA’s advice for the best days to travel on both holidays windows: The Best Time to Book Your Holiday Flights? Now! Check their article for some detailed advice. We’re reproducing two of their handy charts.

AAA Thanksgiving travel -chart of best dates

AAA - Christmas holiday travel = best times chart

SmarterTravel offers their take on timing: The 12 Best and Worst Days to Travel This Holiday Season. They show the busiest travel days around both holidays by share of bookings from travel booking site Hipmunk. They also offer some advice on snagging the best fares.

For train travel, Amtrak offers Tips for Successfully Booking Your Trip. They say that “The earlier you book your tickets, the more likely you are to get the lowest fare available for the dates you want on the routes along your journey. You may book your travel up to 11 months in advance.” See their Tips for Savvy Travelers.

In planning your trip, consider whether you need trip insurance. If you are just zipping home on a domestic flight to visit your folks, you might not need it. Instead, before you book, check your credit cards to see if any offer baggage protection or other travel benefits when you book a flight – many do. And know your consumer rights – see the Department of Transportation’s Fly Rights: A Consumer Guide to Air Travel.

But if you are taking an expensive family trip over the holidays and traveling overseas or on a cruise, you might want to talk trip insurance over with your agent to protect your investment. The Insurance Information Institute offers a good primer: Should you buy travel insurance?

Pet holiday safety & pet holiday fun


Everyone knows the real purpose of the Internet is for cute and funny cat and dog videos – and in the holiday season, pet videos abound. We’re posting a few of our favorites, but first, a serious reminder: In all the celebrations and gala, take particular precautions to avoid pet hazards and look after your pet’s safety – the average cost of surgery is a whopping $1,803 per pet. For tips, see: Pet dangers increase during holidays, insurance claims skyrocket.

Cats wreaking havoc with Christmas trees sure make for fun online videos. Some people go to great lengths to outsmart their cats and retailers are producing special trees for people with cats. See other contraptions and wacky methods people take to protect their trees from pesky pets. This video shows cats winning the annual battle.

Here’s a 10-minute compilation of pets, presents and the pet’s reactions

And 10 more minutes of kids reacting to getting a puppy as a present

The Ranua Wildlife Park is an Arctic Zoo in Lapland so it’s pretty wintry looking. They already gave their animals “little presents in their own style.”

This is last year’s cute video of animals opening gifts in the London Zoo.

Don’t fall for any fake Santas: the 12 scams of Christmas


caroon orf a fake Santa in a police lineup

Busy this season? You probably are – everyone gets caught up in the year-end holiday madness. But no matter how busy you may be, there’s one group of people that never rest: online thieves, crooks and scammers. With just a few weeks left in peak shopping season, scammers are pulling out all stops to try to separate you from your money. Don’t let any fake, scam Santas ruin your holidays. The Better Business Bureau keeps an eye on active swindle schemes and offers an updated list for this season: 12 Scams of Christmas: What to Look For and How to Avoid Them.

Here’s a brief summary – click through the link above to learn more and to find out ways to prevent being a con victim.

1. Look-Alike Websites – these usually come by email offers so buyer beware of what you click!
2. Social Media Gift Exchange – a new twist on the old pyramid scheme.
3. Grandparent Scams – emergency calls for cash help from crooks posing as relatives or friends. Hint: elderly are particularly vulnerable, but hardly the only victims.
4. Temporary Holiday Jobs – fake employers trying to get personal information from unwary applicants.
5. Free Gift Cards – a common phishing scam bait.
6. E-Cards – More people rely on electronic versus traditional cards. So do more phishers – be careful what you click in emails.
7. Fake Shipping Notifications – Phishers know that most people are ordering or getting holiday gifts and you might get tricked by a phony mail alert.
8. Phony Charities – Giving is great, but check with BBB or with sites like Charity Navigator.
9. Letters From Santa – great when they are legit but use a trusted source.
10. Unusual Forms of Payments – If the seller wants prepaid debit or gift cards, wire transfers or payments through third parties, that is a scam alert!
11. Travel Scams – Phony email offers and scam sites are common all year, but especially in this heavy travel season.
12. Puppy Scams – These play on your emotion, but at the heartstrings and wallet. Get your puppies from trusted sources!

We recommend this age-old advice: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be suspicious of emails. Hover over links before you click, or better yet, go directly to the site by typing in the URL. Rely on trusted vendors and be wary of email or online offers from companies you don’t know. BBB says that if you come across any of these scams this holiday season help protect yourself and others by:

Here are some tips we’ve offered from prior years: