Holiday-related scams are almost as traditional as the holidays themselves.
Thieves capitalize on the high volume of shopping-related offers and solicitations to trick consumers into giving up private identifying information and tempt others with supposed ways of making money.
"We see it every year -- scammers taking advantage of the holiday season to defraud consumers," said John Breyault, director of the National Consumers League's Fraud Center and Fraud.org website. "From bogus holiday charity scams to dubious websites that offer shoppers can't miss holiday 'deals,' scammers are adept at taking advantage of consumers' best intentions during the holiday season."
Here are three scams to watch out for this holiday season.
Sites that take your orders -- and never ship them. Consumers looking for cool presents, from drones and self-balancing electric scooters to one-of-a-kind handmade crafts, have to watch out for online shopping sites that don't deliver, warns Jeremy Gin, co-founder of the online business evaluation site SiteJabber.com.
Such shady sites are already selling items they don't have in stock, Gin said. Although there are hundreds of dubious shopping sites, two that have drawn complaints are Gearbest.com and Dealmachine.com.
Several of the suspect sites, all of which are based in China, even have quite a few favorable reviews. That makes it all the more tricky for consumers. But if you read the positive reviews, one clue that something's not quite right is unusual language.
An example drawn from Gearbest: "I ordered kitchen accessories. When ordered was the most nice price on the internet. This product complies with the description on the website."
The bottom line is avoid placing orders on sites that are not well-established and that you are not familiar with. Be particularly leery of overseas vendors, which can largely get away with charging you for something they don't intend to deliver.
Job scams. For many consumers, cash is tight during the gift-giving season, while the opportunity to make a few extra bucks can be tempting. To take advantage of that, crooks send out unsolicited emails and post notices on Internet job boards offering what looks like a chance to earn some money from a seasonal job.
What are they really looking for? Fraudsters may be trying to get your personal and financial information. Other times they might ask you to pay an application fee or some sort of processing charge.
Here are some signs that such "job opportunities" are anything but, according to Better Business Bureau:
- An "employer" offers unusually high pay for easy work.
- They ask you to pay money upfront, often asking for payment through a service like Western Union or a prepaid card.
- No information about the company that's supposedly hiring is available, and no details on the job are provided in writing.
- You are pressured to accept a job right away, usually with the threat that if you don't say yes now you'll lose the opportunity.
- You are required to buy expensive items to prepare for the work you'll supposedly be doing.
- An employer provides only sketchy contact information, such as a web address or a cell phone.
Phony package delivery offers. We can all expect to get package deliveries as the holidays draw closer. That's an invitation for scheming thieves to dangle the idea that you're getting a package -- whether from the U.S. Post Office, FedEx or UPS -- to either try to extract personal and financial information from you or to install software onto your computer that could allow them to snag your passwords, warned Robert Siciliano, security expert with the antivirus firm BestCompanys.com.
For the crooks, it's as simple as trying to get you to either click a link or download an infected attachment, Siciliano said. They just use the phony emails from the delivery services to get you clicking.
"Once a device is infected with malware, then that user's entire device is compromised," he said. "Criminals can spy on every website visited and username and password typed in and get full, complete control of numerous accounts."
Keep in mind that this is the high season for scam operations to make their money. During holiday shopping season, it's one thing to walk into a well-known department store and quite another to click away online without doing your due diligence.
"Scammers are by far the most active during the holidays, which means consumers need to be especially vigilant," Gin said. "Whenever possible, try to use major credit cards with fraud protection, research unfamiliar businesses before making purchases, and carefully check credit card and bank statements for suspicious charges."