The 12 scams of Christmas

Scammers ramp up their activities each year around the holidays. Here are 12 popular scams you should be on the lookout for.

By Stacy Johnson Nov 28, 2011 10:51AM

This post is from Jason Steele at partner site Money Talks News.


Money Talks News on MSN MoneyThe holiday season is a great time for giving, but, sadly, there are always people who want to prey on our generosity and rip us off. But you don't have to be a victim.


In the video below, Stacy Johnson offers tips to avoid holiday scams and to make sure that your charitable giving goes where it belongs. Check it out, then read on for more.

Avoiding holiday scams isn't difficult. Let's take a closer look at the five Stacy mentioned, then round out the list with seven more.

  • Fake holiday help. Getting a seasonal job can be a great idea. In fact, it is one of our 5 best ways to make more money. But there are people out there preying on those who need work. Common scams include all manner of work-from-home jobs. If the so-called employer asks for money upfront or your Social Security number, you might be on the verge of becoming a victim rather than an employee.
  • Fake charities. Don't give money to any charity -- even spare change -- without checking them out first. And that's something you can't do if someone is on your porch, at an intersection, or on the sidewalk asking for money. Read "4 tips to find the right charity" and visit the FTC's website to review a charity checklist.
  • Fake-check scams. If someone is giving you money, how can you be scammed? The answer involves the fake checks Stacy mentioned. In these instances, buyers want what you're selling on sites like eBay or Craigslist. Their next step is to offer you a cashier's check for more than your asking price, on the condition that you return the difference. Weeks later, you are informed by your bank that the check was a phony, and you're now out your money and your goods. The American Bankers Association has some tips to avoid being a victim, but in short, avoid cashier's checks in situations like this and never return any difference in cash.
  • Counterfeit merchandise. In New York and other major cities, it is common to see street vendors selling watches and purses that appear to be high-end, name-brand goods. The modern version of these scams is to sell the merchandise online where the buyer has even less opportunity to inspect it. As Stacy said, beware of items that are priced well below their competitors, and be sure to buy from an authorized retailer.
  • Fake vacation rentals. This growing scam involves people who advertise a property they don't own. Sometimes the scammer goes to the effort of hijacking the real owner's email, as in this case recently reported in The Washington Post. Other times, the scammers merely show pictures of a place they pretend to represent. You send them money and show up to find you have no place to stay. Solution? Take every possible step to ensure you're dealing with the true owner of the property, and always pay by credit card, not wire transfer.
  • Nondelivery of stuff bought online. Whether it's an online store, eBay or Craigslist, this scam is avoided by knowing who the seller is. Be suspicious of deals that seem too good to be true. Fortunately, eBay protects buyers from this scam, and credit card users can request a chargeback if goods are not delivered. Also, keep in mind that Craigslist always recommends conducting transactions in person so that you know exactly what you are receiving.
  • Email scams. Many scams start with email, so be skeptical of anything that shows up in your inbox. Some messages involve references to recent events, such as a natural disaster or the death of a public figure. Others purport to award lottery winnings or the transfer of wealth from a foreign country. Don't ever respond to unsolicited email.
  • Phishing scams. Here's how this works: You get an email that appears to be from a legitimate company, like your bank, that insists you log in at their website. You're then directed to a copycat site that steals your user name and password. If you have doubts about an email, don't reply. Instead, call the company or open up a new browser window and go directly to their website. Check out these anti-phishing tips from the Securities and Exchange Commission.
  • The "items-off-of-a-truck" scam. A friend of mine once paid hundreds of dollars for a stereo system that was barely worth the carton it came in. He was a victim of one of the roving gangs of scammers masquerading as delivery men. They park a truck in a parking lot and offer items for sale at big discounts. At best, the goods will be low-quality knockoffs. At worst, you could be receiving stolen goods.
  • Limited quantities. An unscrupulous online merchant advertises a fantastic product -- often cameras or electronics -- at an unbeatable price. But when you place your order, you're told they have limited quantities of that particular item. If the seller demands additional purchases to get the deal, or can't produce a tracking number within 48 hours of any sale, cancel your order through your credit card company and move on.
  • Bait and switch. This might be the oldest trick in the book, but it still happens. A seller advertises a popular product at a great price. When you attempt to buy it, either online or in person, you're told the product is sold out, or not as good as a similar model at a higher price. Before you know it, you're paying more than you intended for something you weren't planning on buying.
  • Layaway plans. Retailers are bringing back layaway, but sometimes with a catch -- not exactly a scam but something to look out for. You have to pay upfront fees and make regular payments. Fail to make the payments, and you could end up losing the fee and paying a "restocking" charge. To avoid feeling scammed by a layaway plan, be sure to closely examine the terms and conditions. And if you can, avoid these plans entirely by saving all year, then paying cash.

Bottom line? Ninety-nine percent of scams happen when we're too gullible, too greedy, in too much of a hurry, or when we're feeling especially charitable. Be generous this holiday season, but be vigilant.


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

VIDEO ON MSN MONEY

6Comments
Nov 28, 2011 2:50PM
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The biggest scam is Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. Go shopping you little junkies, spend money that you don't have on foreign junk to support China's economy.
Nov 28, 2011 7:07PM
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No need to be scammed on Black Friday.. One can go to a neighborhood Walmart for the same..
Dec 7, 2011 8:51AM
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lol this stuff happens every day not just at christmas
Dec 7, 2011 7:53AM
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BAIT AND SWITCH FROM SEARS: 

 

I bought a VERY nice Kenmore stainless steel dishwasher, loaded with features, on sale.  Picked it up at customer service. We were undergoing a big kitchen remodeling.

 

The expensive plumber who was already working at my house on that same day installed it. 

 Staying out of the way, I did not see it until it was installed.  It was NOT the one I bought, so I called Sears.  They said, "Bring it back in the original carton."  NICE BAIT AND SWITCH SCAM FROM SEARS!  The box had already been cut up.  They refused to come out with  the machine I bought and re-install.  The whole fiasco would have cost me anther $200. at least.  The cheapest model they make in still in my kitchen. 

 

DO NOT BUY AT SEARS!

 

Nov 29, 2011 12:11PM
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hey dirtytwat:

 

It's a crime now to spend money?

What happens if a person actually has money and wants to spend it on whatever?

Do they need your permission?

 

What you can't pay your student loan?

Should everyone feel sorry for you too?

boo hoo

 

Dec 7, 2011 7:26AM
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The whole concept of Xmass is a scam.  The early colonists went to great lengths to NOT celebrate Saturnalia and corrupting it to indicate Christian origin was only EVIL  There are so many questions you can pose that prove that this date is a scam that I am really amazed that it is still recognized.
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