Scammers come out at the holidays

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’Tis the season for holiday scams, according to Leah Brownridge, media and corporate communications specialist with the Better Business Bureau of Southern Alberta and the East Kootenays (BBB), who said the organization does compile “an annual 12 Scams of Christmas list.”

The top five scams include the ones the BBB is seeing most this holiday season. Ads for temporary holiday jobs come in at the number five spot.

“It’s usually the mystery shopping scam. It seems like a very easy, quick way to make a couple of hundred bucks,” Brownridge said. “Especially for people who have been laid off because of the economy, they may be looking for just anything to help them get through the holidays, financially.”

In this scam, the unsuspecting individual is asked to go to a bank or drug store and report on the customer service they receive. The scammer will then send a cheque and ask the individual to wire a portion of those funds into off shore accounts and keep the rest as payment; however, the cheque will be counterfeit and the individual will be required to pay back the bank.

In the number four spot are offers for free gift cards. When shopping online, an unsolicited ad for a free gift card might pop up and just requires you enter your personal information or set up an online account.

“You’re thinking that’s quick and easy, it could be a good gift for somebody; however, this opens up a window for identify theft,” Brownridge said.

Romance scams are in the number three spot. Brownridge said these are popular on Christmas and Valentine’s Day and take advantage of people looking for someone to share the holiday with. The scammer will build rapport with the individual and then begin asking for financial assistance. Brownridge said these scammers rely on the inclination of people to help when someone they’ve come to care about appears to be in trouble.

In the number two spot are puppy scams, wherein someone will offer a puppy for sale online and the buyer will either never receive the puppy or the puppy they do get comes from a puppy mill and has all sorts of health issues. Brownridge said people need to be really careful when buying a pet online – being able to go see the kennel and meet the puppy’s parents is very important to avoid getting scammed.

“Do your research and buy local if you can. Go to shelters and adoption centres rather than taking your chances online,” she said.

Leading the list is the free beauty product trial scam. Pop up ads online for free products, which may seem like an easy way to get something for free; however, Brownridge said people need to be very careful.

“They will lure you into providing your credit card information because you still need to pay the shipping and handling but the product is otherwise free. When your product does come in the mail and you check your credit card statement, you’ll find hundreds of dollars racked up on your statement,” she said. “When you call the company to inquire why that is, they say you’ve signed up for an ongoing, monthly subscription.”

According to Brownridge, scammers rely on people hoping to get something for nothing or a very good deal. If you do find yourself scammed, she said there are a few things you can do.

If you paid for the item on a credit card, your credit card company may be able to help you out. Complaints can be filed with the BBB or Service Alberta. If there is any evidence of fraud, individuals should file a report with local RCMP.

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