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BBB Tip of the Week: How to recognize and avoid holiday scams

By Tyler Russell BBB Northwest and Pacific

As shoppers set records for spending, Better Business Bureau urges consumers to be prepared for scammers looking to take a bit of their holiday cheer.

Look-alike websites: Many consumers will see an increase in the number of email alerts announcing deals, gifts and sales. While mailers can look legitimate, the links may lead to look-alike websites meant to trick you into entering private information or give scammers an opportunity to download malware onto your computer. To protect themselves, consumers should: Review the sender’s address, as businesses will often send emails with a proprietary address, such as @BBB.org; look for misspellings throughout the email; hover over links without clicking to see where they reroute: only enter sensitive information into a website that begins with “https”, as the “s” informs it’s secure and information entered is encrypted.

Free gift cards: Who doesn’t love free stuff especially around the holidays? Scammers hope to take advantage of that fondness through phishing emails and pop-up ads offering gift cards. If you come across one of these offers, you should not: Open the email, but, if you do, don’t click the links. Instead, mark the email as spam or junk.

Share any personal information to receive the card, as the scammers will use the information to steal your identity later.

E-cards: Christmas cards are sent out this time of year and while some friends and family may be going high-tech by using e-cards, so are scammers. Spot a friendly e-card from a scam by looking to see if the sender’s name is easily visible. Be wary if you are required to enter personal information to open the card, and avoid opening any suspicious email. If you do and see an attachment that ends in “.exe”, which indicates an execute command and could download a virus, do not open it.

Fake shipping notifications: Delivery notifications can often be expected throughout the holiday season, as many consumers go online to purchase gifts. However, some of these announcements may be phishing scams. These false notification emails often use a legitimate businesses name and logo to trick you into opening the email and allowing thieves to gain access to personal information and passwords. Targets should know most online vendors provide tracking information that can be used to verify where your items are and to identify the delivery company. You are not required to pay money to receive your package; that payment was made when you made your purchase. Also, delivery services do not need personal information to deliver items.

Phony charities: Charities often get a boost this season, as consumers are in the giving spirit, but scammers seeking to take advantage can pose as charities or needy individuals soliciting donations. Here are a few tips for spotting scammers: Look for sound-alike names, verify your charity at www.give.org, review the charity’s website to make sure it specifies plans for donations and how they will be used to address the issues it claims to combat.

Puppy scams: While a year-round issue, puppy scams hurt families seeking to add a family member to their household for the holidays. To prevent this fraud, consumers should:

Do an image search online of the photo taken of your pet. If multiple websites pop-up, it’s probably a scam.

Know what prices to expect, because if the cost seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Never pay with a money order or via Western Union. Instead use a credit card, which will give you the added protection of being able to dispute the charges.

If you come across any of these scams this holiday season help protect yourself and others by:

Keeping a close eye on your financial statements and quickly disputing any unrecognized charges.

Submitting a report to BBB Scam Tracker.

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