Amanda Bin's Blog

Online Security Straight Talk: Be careful while shopping over the holidays

The Canton Regional and Greater West Virginia Better Business Bureau offers tips and advice for consumers to avoid fraudulent practices.

The concern: It's the most wonderful time of the year, but your Better Business Bureau is reminding consumers that scammers don't take a break for the holidays. In fact, the holiday season is ideal for them while shoppers are too distracted to notice the warning signs of a potential scam.

Common holiday scams and tips to avoid:

1. Online shopping scams: Everyone loves a great deal, but some websites offer prices that are too good to be true. BBB advice: When shopping online, if you’re on sites you’re not familiar with, watch for look-alike websites with URLs that use the names of well-known brands along with extra words. Confirm the company has a physical address and telephone number. Any pages where you enter personal or financial information should have https:// at the beginning of the address or URL. Check out the websites BBB Business Reviews at or call 800-362-0494.

2. Online ads for hot toys and gadgets: 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. BBB Advice: If you shop on Craigslist or other classified sites, look for local sellers and conduct transactions in person. 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 stores: While you’re focused on getting those deals, identity thieves are watching for opportunities to steal your wallet or your debit or credit card numbers. BBB Advice: Stay alert. Know where your credit and debit cards are at all times and cover the keypad when entering your pin number. If the merchant can process cards using an embedded chip, use that rather than swiping the magnetic strip. Make sure you put your card back in your wallet after each purchase.

4. Phony charitable pleas: The holidays are a time of giving, and that creates an opportunity for scammers to solicit their own donations with fake charity solicitations in email, on social media sites, and even by text. BBB Advice: Always research charities at BBB’s before donating.

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.

5. Phishing emails: Hackers use phishing emails to get your personal information or break into your computer. Beware of e-cards where the sender’s name is not apparent and you are required to share additional information to get the card; and for messages purporting to be from companies like UPS, Federal Express or major retailers with links or attachments to package tracking information. BBB Advice: Don’t click on any links or open attachments from unsolicited emails that could download malware on your computer to steal your information, especially from companies you don’t deal with. Email addresses that don’t match up, typos and grammatical mistakes are common red flags. Make sure you have current antivirus software and that all security patches have been installed on the computer.

Also beware:

Letters from Santa: Trusted companies do offer personalized letters from Santa, but scammers mimic them to get personal information from unsuspecting parents.

Grandparents scam: Be cautious of any call from family or friends claiming any kind of emergency, such as, an accident, being arrested or in the hospital. Never send money unless you confirm with another family member that it’s true.

Temporary holiday jobs: Retailers and delivery services need extra help at the holidays, but beware of solicitations that require you to share personal information online or pay for a job lead. Apply in person or go to retailers’ main websites to find out who is hiring.

Unusual forms of payment: Be wary of anyone asking you to pay for purchases using prepaid debit cards, gift cards, wire transfers, third parties, etc. These payments cannot be traced or cancelled. Use a credit card for 0% liability.

Free gift cards: Pop-up ads or email offering free gift cards are often just a ploy to get your personal information that can later be used for identity theft.

Social media gift exchange: It sounds like a great plan; buy one gift and get 36 in return. But it’s just a variation on a pyramid scheme and it’s illegal.

For more information: Visit to look up a business, file a complaint, write a customer review, report a scam with Scam Tracker, read tips, follow us on social media, and more!

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