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:



Post-Thanksgiving shopping extravaganzas – a few safety tips

After Thanksgiving sale

Once upon a time, we all celebrated Thanksgiving, watched a few football games and had a leisurely post-holiday weekend. Now it’s a shop-til-you-drop extravaganza that extends over 5 or 6 days – yikes!  We offer a rundown with some consumer safety tips.

Black Friday – The day after Thanksgiving is either a shopper’s paradise or a total retail nightmare, depending on your competitive shopping appetite. And check your stores – Black Friday may start on Thanksgiving Day itself at some of the nation’s biggest box stores. (Some naysayers call this “Grey Thursday).

Small Business Saturday – Go Local! – Small Business Saturday encourages holiday shoppers to support local “real world” businesses – the small, local shops, stores and businesses in your neighborhood or town.

Cyber Monday – Shop and get good deals online! But don’t let your guard down in the pursuit of good deals – cyber criminals will be out in full force.

Giving Tuesday – #GivingTuesday is a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 1, 2015, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.

Here are some “real world” shopping tips

  • Keep packages out of site in your car. Lock them in your trunk and keep car doors locked
  • Be aware of your purse and wallet at all times – pickpockets love crowds. If you can, avoid a purse or wallet entirely and store phone, cash, credit cards and IDs in a secure inner pocket.
  • Carry only the money and credit cards you need. Don’t flash cash.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Thieves and con-artists specialize in distraction techniques.
  • Don’t overload yourself with packages and impair your awareness, mobility or vision – take some to the car.
  • Remember where you parked your car. Have your keys ready and be alert for strangers when you approach it.
  • Shop with a friend or family member, particularly at night. There’s safety in numbers.

Here are a few safe online shopping tips:

  • Update your web security, anti-virus and malware detection programs snf be sure your firewall is on.
  • Watch out for email phishing offers, the spoofed mails look authentic. Don’t click the link, type in the website.
  • Purchase only in a secure environment – check for “https” in the address in your web browser – the “s” stands for “secure” – never conduct a transaction without it.
  • Public Wi-Fi is not secure so avoid doing banking and transactions that would expose your credit cards, passwords, or personal info.
  • Update your passwords before shopping. Create unique passwords for each site – here are some tips for creating secure passwords.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Watch out for “free” gift offers and contests from unknown sites. Don’t give away any personal information or credit card numbers to anyone you don’t know.


Take advantage of tax free shopping this weekend


Save some money this weekend! In Massachusetts, the 6.25% sales tax is being waived as a tax holiday over Aug. 15-16, an annual tradition that goes back more than a decade. Buy almost any purchase of goods tax-free if they have a price tag of $2,500 or less – excluding motor vehicles, motor boats, tobacco, gas or meals. Connecticut also kicks off a tax-free week from Aug 16 through Aug. 22, but it’s limited to clothing items of $100 or less. (Note – in prior years, it was good for clothing items of $300 or less.)

In both states, you can purchase multiple items, as long as no individual item exceeds the limit. You can also get the tax breaks at online retailers.

We encourage you to do some research and shop local. Retailers typically sweeten the pot by adding their own discounts and sales to coordinate with these tax-free holidays — some deals are very generous! But remember, whether you shop in your community or online, be a smart and cautious shopper: identity thieves don’t take holidays.

2015 Massachusetts Sales Tax Holiday Weekend – Aug. 15-16

You can learn the ins and outs of the 2015 Massachusetts Sales Tax Holiday Weekend at the Department of Revenue site. Here’s a quick summary:

“The Act provides that the sales tax holiday will occur on August 15 and 16, 2015 and on those days, non-business sales at retail of single items of tangible personal property costing $2,500 or less are exempt from sales and use taxes, subject to certain exclusions. The following do not qualify for the sales tax holiday exemption and remain subject to tax: all motor vehicles, motorboats, meals, telecommunications services, gas, steam, electricity, tobacco products and any single item whose price is in excess of $2,500. “

The posting provides quite a bit of detail about the rules – check it out if you have questions about the particulars. Here are some other resources:

Massachusetts sales tax holiday weekend 2015: Your guide to skipping the state’s sales tax

Retailers to extend tax-free weekend

2015 Connecticut Tax-Free Week – Aug. 16 through 22

The Hartford Courant offers a good explainer of how the holiday works, along with some Q&A: What’s Tax-Free, What’s Not During CT’s Tax-Free Week.

“The new state budget, which took effect July 1, waives the 6.35 percent sales tax on most clothing items, shoes and boots priced under $100 during this period. Since 2000, the tax exemption has applied to items priced under $300.”

The Courant notes that sales tax is exempted for Connecticut residents who shop online or by phone if purchased during tax-free week, regardless of when purchases are delivered. Items placed on layaway during the week are also tax-free. But out-of-state residents need to shop in Connecticut stores to get the break.

Here’s another resource to learn more:
Connecticut tax free week 2015: Your guide to state’s annual clothing sales tax break

If you are traveling and will miss the Massachusetts and Connecticut sales, residents can shop online. Plus, several states offer tax-free weekends – check them out to see if they coincide with your travels.

Have a safe, happy Thanksgiving – and use caution on Black Friday & Cyber Monday

Happy Thanksgiving! We hope you and your loved ones have a wonderful holiday – here are some tips for keeping things safe & healthy!
Thanksgiving weekend used to be all about turkey, football, and family but in recent years – for better or for worse – it’s all about the shopping. One can now progress from the biggest shopping day of the year – Black Friday – right through to Cyber Monday in a whirlwind frenzy of shopping. Except this year, Black Friday may start early at some of the nation’s biggest box stores. In what many are calling “Grey Thursday,” some stores are starting sales early, on Thanksgiving Day itself – much to the consternation of some store employees.
If you plan to brave the crowds, here are some tips for a Black Friday Personal Safety Plan to keep from being trampled, mugged, scammed, or otherwise abused. You might also want to check out these Black Friday Shopping Tips from Consumer Reports for some best shopping practices.
Saturday, November 24, 2012 is Small Business Saturday, a day we can really get behind. The purpose of this day is to to celebrate and support local small businesses. Why not support your friends and neighbors? It’s a great way to ensure that your local community continues to thrive and grow.
Cyber Monday is all about online shopping – no crowds, but be alert for scammers, spammers, and phishers. Shopping online can be fun and comfortable, but you need to take steps to ensure that your shopping is secure and safe.
Here are a few safe shopping tips:

  • Make sure that your web security, anti virus and malware detection programs are updated and that your firewall is on. Many experts suggest the “belt and suspenders” approach of having more than one program as a backup.
  • Make sure that your browsers are up to date.
  • Watch out for email phishing offers, they are getting pretty good at creating authentic-looking emails spoofs of mailings from big name entities. Don’t click the link, type in the website.
  • Make sure that any purchases are made in a secure environment – check for “https” in the address in your web browser – that all-important “s” stands for “secure” – never conduct a transaction without it.
  • Public Wi-Fi is not secure so avoid doing banking and transactions that would expose your credit cards, passwords, or personal info.
  • Before shopping, it’s a good time to update your passwords. Create unique passwords for each site – here are some tips for creating secure passwords.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Watch out for “free” gift offers and contests from unknown sites – don’t give away any personal information or credit card numbers to anyone you don’t know. Stick with reputable sites and brand names.

Here are a few more tips:
11 Tips for Safe Online Shopping from PC Magazine
Holiday Shopping Dos and Don’ts
Consumer Reports Guide to Online Security
OnGuard Online

Shopping this week? Be safe on Black Friday

If you plan to hit the stores or the websites to shop this Thanksgiving weekend, you should give a few minutes to thinking about your safety before you do. People can get wacky over a baragain, particularly in these tough economic times. Plus, thieves love crowds – it’s a perfect time for snatching purses or wallets, or stealing sensitive info that can lead to identity hijacking. Crime prevention experts suggest that You Need A Personal Safety Plan for Black Friday
Here’s a few more things to watch out for and tips to stay safe:
Crowd tramplings, mobs, incidents of rage
Purse and wallet snatchings
Prevent Identify Theft & Fraud – online & off
10 tips to prevent ID theft when shopping online
If you should have a theft or an accident, report it to the police, and be sure to call your insurer or your local independent insurance agent to file a claim.