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Don’t Fall Prey to Holiday Scams

12/14/2020

Holiday Scams

Scammers famously exploit high-stress times, and the pre-holidays shopping frenzy is no exception. That’s why the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning of an uptick in holiday toy scams which can be difficult to spot.

How the scam plays out

Every year, there are a few must-have toys on most kids’ wish lists. These choice picks become the hottest-selling items and are plucked off shelves in a wink. Unfortunately for anyone who didn’t shop early enough, these toys soon become impossible to find. The parents search desperately, but to no avail.

Here’s where the scammer steps in. Armed with a bogus website and some crafty online tracking, the scammer targets the vulnerable shopper with ads and online messages to draw the shopper to the scammer’s site. On the authentic-looking site, the shopper finally finds what they seek — the sought-after toy! Often, the toy is also deeply discounted. The purchase is completed within minutes.

Unfortunately, though, the scammer will send a cheap knockoff that doesn’t work or quickly breaks. When contacted for a refund, the scammer refuses to provide one or offers only to refund a small percentage of the purchase price. Sometimes, they’ll also charge an exorbitant amount of money for shipping it back to the company, almost making the small refund not worthwhile.

Red flags

Here’s how to spot these scams:

  • The seller has a large supply of toys that are in high demand.
  • The website is not secure.
  • The seller is offering a steep discount due to a “flash sale” or “last-minute” deal.
  • The seller’s website is full of spelling and/or grammatical errors.

Stay safe

Keep yourself safe when shopping online with these tips:

  • Research before you buy. Don’t purchase an expensive item from a company you’ve never heard of before without doing some digging.
  • Only visit secure sites. Look for the lock icon and the “s” after the “http” on the URL.
  • Pay with credit for purchase protection power.
  • Update your security software.
  • If you believe you’ve been targeted by a holiday toy scam, end all contact with the seller immediately. Alert the BBB and let your friends know about the circulating scam as well.

In addition to toy scams, “Secret Sister” gift exchange seems like a fun way to spread cheer within the social media-verse, but it’s actually an illegal pyramid scheme, according to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS).

How it plays out:

Akin to old-timey chain letters, the Secret Sister gift exchange asks participants to buy a gift of at least $10 value and send it to your “secret sis.” In exchange, they are promised 6-36 gifts in return. Participants must provide their personal information and information of members from their social network. Then, those people must provide their friends’ information, and so on …

Once the chain is broken, the original participant is out $10 and will probably never get one gift, let alone 36!

Just like any other pyramid scheme, according to the BBB, Secret Sister counts on “the recruitment of individuals to keep the scam afloat. Once people stop participating in the gift exchange, the gift supply stops as well, and leaves hundreds of disappointed people without their promised gifts.”

Gift exchanges, the USPIS says, are gambling, and participants could be charged with mail fraud as well as face fines and jail time.

Protect yourself:

Delete it: Even though it seems lovely to receive many gifts from all over the globe, it could cost you your identity and your freedom. Disregard any social media post, email or letter asking to be a Secret Sister.

Report it:Let the social media platform you’re using know about the circulating scheme by clicking on “report post.”

Protect it: Restoring your identity is no joke! Keep your private information to yourself.

Question it: Some of these fraudsters actually claim these schemes are endorsed by the U.S. government. Not true! Pyramid schemes are illegal and would never be promoted by any government agency.

Don’t get on the naughty list this holiday season. Steer clear of the Secret Sister or any other social media gift exchange, keep your money and your identity safe, and jingle all the way to a happy holiday!



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