Four Holiday Scams to Watch Out For

The holidays are a season of joy and wonder. Unfortunately they’re also a season of scams.

The Better Business Bureau has a helpful scam alert tracker that catalogs recently reported scams. Here are four holiday-specific scams that have appeared in recent months.

Fake Seasonal Work Scam

Some scammers may try to take advantage of your desire to earn extra money during the holiday season by sending out emails advertising phony temporary employment opportunities.

Essentially you receive an email that claims to be from a major retailer or employment firm. The email advertises some especially attractive employment opportunities (usually with exceptional pay) and then directs you to click a link to begin the application process.

The link does not lead to an application, however. Instead it infects your computer with a virus or malware, which opens you up to potential identity theft.

Unfortunately, an employer is very unlikely to send you a job offer completely unsolicited, so be very wary of any employment offers that just show up out of the blue, especially one that seems too good to be true. As a rule of thumb, don’t click on any links in an unsolicited email unless you know and trust the sender.

Social Media Gift Exchange Scam

Secret Sister” is just the most recent version of a scam that’s been used many, many times throughout history. It’s a pyramid scheme that uses social media to cast a very wide net.

The scam begins with a social media post for a gift exchange. Spend $10 on a gift for a stranger and you could receive as many as 36 gifts back. You’re presented with a list of names – your gift goes to the name at the top. Then your name goes to the bottom of the list. When your name gets to the top, that’s when you start receiving gifts.

Except there’s a good chance your name will never make it to the top of the list, and besides, it’s actually illegal, as it’s considered a form of gambling.

So while this might sound fun and pretty harmless, there’s very little chance that participating in one of these pyramid scheme “gift exchanges” will pay off for you.

Gift Card Payment Scam

When you’re on the hunt for a really great deal, you may wander away from the more traditional online shopping sites and end up on a site you’ve never heard of before. This online retailer has some massive discounts on a lot of high quality items. Even better, they claim to have a way to save you from paying sales tax. The site tells you to purchase a gift certificate from another retailer (usually Amazon) and input the gift certificate info during checkout, instead of using a credit card.

Why do they ask for a gift certificate instead of a credit card? Because the site is a scam, the merchandise never existed, and using a gift certificate is basically the same as using cash – you can’t reverse the transaction. The money is just gone.

Generally speaking, the safest method to make payments online is via credit card. If a site doesn’t accept credit card payments, that should be a red flag. Also, verify that the site is secure before entering your credit card information. The web address should begin with https and include a small padlock icon to confirm that the site is secure.

Fake Delivery Scam

This scam begins with a phone call. Someone tells you that you have a delivery on the way. Soon after a delivery man shows up with a gift basket, but isn’t able to verify who sent the gift (the card is either lost or scheduled to arrive separately).

Before you can accept the gift basket, however, the delivery person asks for you to provide some verification. Usually this is because the basket includes wine or some other alcoholic item. They produce a card scanner and ask to scan a credit card to verify that you are of legal drinking age.

Red flags all over the place. For starters, unless you ordered something that was cash-on-delivery, there’s never a valid reason to give a “delivery person” your credit card. Also, if someone needs to verify your age they usually ask to see your ID. It may be exciting to get an unexpected gift, but having your identity stolen is not a price worth paying.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI. All typos are a stylistic choice, honest.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.
  • The National Council of Higher Education Resources (NCHER) is the nation’s oldest and largest higher education finance trade association. NCHER’s membership includes state, nonprofit, and for-profit higher education service organizations, including lenders, servicers, guaranty agencies, collection agencies, financial literacy providers, and schools, interested and involved in increasing college access and success. It assists its members in shaping policies governing federal and private student loan and state grant programs on behalf of students, parents, borrowers, and families.

  • Since 2007, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF) has served as a trusted, neutral source of information for more than eight million homeowners. They are partnered with, and endorsed by, numerous major government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury.

  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

  • The Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. Their mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.

  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.