Shopping on line for holidays? BBB offers safety tips

Consumers who let down their guard during the hectic holiday season can easily fall prey to scammers poised to pounce on careless or overburdened shoppers, the BBB warns. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has identified five common scams that consumers should watch out for during the holidays, whether they’re shopping online, juggling packages at the mall or simply reading their e-mail.

“While the rest of us are checking off items on our gift lists, scammers are blowing the dust off of their tried and true holiday scams,” said Michelle L. Corey, BBB president and CEO. “By being vigilant, consumers can help turn holiday scams into ghosts of Christmases past.”
1. Online shopping scams: Everyone loves a great deal, but some websites offer electronics or luxury goods at prices that are too good to be true. Every holiday season, the BBB hears from holiday shoppers who paid for a “great deal” online, but received little or nothing in return.

BBB advice: Always look for the BBB logo when shopping online and click on it to confirm that it is legitimate. If you’re shopping on sites that aren’t household names, check out their BBB Business Reviews at or by calling 314-645-3300. Confirm that the company has a physical address and telephone number.

2. Nabbing the season’s hottest toys and gadgets online: When stores sell out, you may find the items online at sites like Craigslist or eBay— but for a much steeper price. Some sellers will take your money and run, leaving you without the gift or money to buy it elsewhere.

BBB advice: If you shop Craigslist, look for local sellers and conduct transactions in person. Bring a friend if you’re uncomfortable meeting the seller alone. Never wire money as payment. If you’re shopping on auctions like eBay, research sellers extensively and don’t buy if the deal sounds too good to be true.

3. Identity theft at the mall: While you’re struggling with bags of presents, identity thieves may see an opportunity to steal your wallet or look over your shoulder to copy your debit or credit card numbers.

BBB advice: Don’t let yourself get bogged down in purchases or lose track of your wallet. Know where your credit and debit cards are at all times and cover the keypad when entering your pin number while purchasing items or getting money from an ATM. Make sure you put your card back in your wallet after each purchase.

4. Bogus charitable pleas: The holidays are a time of giving, and that creates an opportunity for scammers to solicit donations to line their own pockets. Beware of solicitations from charities that don’t necessarily deliver on their promises or are ill-equipped to carry through on their plans. Resist demands for on-the-spot donations.

BBB advice: Always research charities with the BBB before you give to see if the charity meets the BBB’s 20 Standards for Charity Accountability. Up-to-date reports on local and national charities are available at

5. Phishing e-mails: Phishing emails are a common way for hackers to get at your personal information or break into your computer. Around the holidays, beware of e-cards and messages pretending to be from companies like UPS or Fedex with links to package tracking information.

BBB advice: Don’t click on any links or open any attachments to emails until you have confirmed that they are not malicious. Email addresses that don’t match up, typos and grammatical mistakes are common red flags of a malicious phishing email. Also beware of unsolicited emails from companies with which you have no association. Make sure you have current antivirus software and that all security patches have been installed on the computer.

For more advice on how to be a savvy consumer this holiday season or to find BBB Business Reviews of businesses or charities, call (314) 645-3300 or go online to

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Published 11-23-2012