With 2023 quickly winding down, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has compiled our list of the 12 sneaky scams of Christmas.
When shopping or donating this holiday season, watch out for schemes trying to swipe your cash or steal your personal information.
"With B.C. holding one of the highest cost of living rates in the country, we all need to be a bit savvier with our holiday budgets this year," said BBB spokesperson Aaron Guillen.
"Take a moment to dig into the background of the company you're thinking of buying from. Try talking about your purchases with someone you trust. Is that deal you're eyeing really as good as it seems, or could it be too good to be true? We don’t want any Grinches stealing not just your holiday spirit but also your hard-earned money."
You can learn how to avoid holiday-related scams by visiting the holiday page of the BBB's website.
Here are the 12 scams of Christmas you need to watch out for:
Misleading social media ads
- BBB constantly receives reports of people paying for items that they never receive, getting charged monthly for a free trial they never signed up for, or receiving an item that is counterfeit or much different from the one advertised. Online purchase scams make up nearly a third of the overall reports to BBB Scam Tracker, according to our latest data. Always research before you buy.
Social media gift exchanges
- Each holiday season, this scheme pops back up. This year is no different. A popular name for this scheme is the ‘Secret Sister’ gift scam. The scam works by promising large amounts gifts (perhaps bottles of wine, gift cards, books, etc) when you bring extra friends to the group; the more friends the better. In all of these versions, participants are asked to share their personal information and are further tricked into buying and shipping gifts or money to unknown individuals. The problem is that this scheme stops when the recruitment stops. Someone will be left emptyhanded. Plus -- pyramid schemes are illegal in Canada. For more BBB tips, click here.
- Apple's App Store and Google Play list dozens of holiday-themed apps where children can video chat live with Santa, light the menorah, or track Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve. Watch out for in-app purchases that may be charged to your card on file and review privacy policies to see what information will be collected from the apps. Learn how to spot the red flags with this BBB article, filled with tips.
Fake texts/calls for online accounts
- Consumers will receive an email, call, or text message which explains that there has been suspicious activity on one of their accounts, whether it be on Amazon, Netflix, or a bank account – and it further urges them to take immediate action by re-entering private information and trusting that whoever sent them the text, call, or email can be trusted. Sadly, that can leave a consumer vulnerable to being hacked.
Gift card barcode stickers
- When buying gift cards at big box stores, make sure to double check the barcode on the back of the giftcard. In December 2022, a scam circulated around the country in which an identical bar code sticker was placed on top of the current barcode, so that when customers bought their gift card, they were actually purchasing a completely separate gift card unrelated to theirs. For example, the barcode for a $100 liquor store gift card would be placed on top of a barcode for a $100 Playstation Store gift card instead. If you don’t catch the con during checkout, you end up activating their card instead of yours. If you fall for this scam or narrowly avoid it, report it to BBB Scam Tracker.
Fake employers for seasonal jobs
- Retailers typically hire seasonal workers to help meet the demands of holiday shoppers. With Boxing Day coming down the line, shippers and delivery services are top holiday employers this year because of the increase in online orders. In fact, 65 percent of employment scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker were related to becoming a “warehouse redistribution coordinator” or some similar titles involving the reshipment of packages, which often contain stolen goods. Look for the Sign of A Better Business by searching the BBB Business Directory first.
- The holiday season brings endless emails offering deals, sales, and bargains, but be wary of emails with links enclosed, especially from unfamiliar businesses. Some may lead to look-alike websites created by scammers to trick people into downloading malware, making dead-end purchases, and sharing private information. For more BBB tips on how to identify fake websites, click here.
- The last few weeks of the year is a busy time for charitable donations. Donors are advised to look out for fraudulent charities and scammers pretending to be individuals in need. Avoid impromptu donation decisions to unfamiliar organizations. Always ask for credentials for charity representatives to prove that they are with their organization. Find a trusted charity by verifying it with BBB's Give.org.
Fake shipping notifications
- With rampant online shopping during the holidays, there is also an increase in the number of notifications about shipping details from retailers and carriers. Scammers are using this new surge to send phishing emails with links enclosed that may allow unwanted access to your private information or attempt to trick people into paying new shipping fees.
Niche advent calendars
- This is a new entry to the top 12 scams of Christmas. In past years, BBB Scam Tracker say reports about advent calendar ads on social media not delivering as promised. Some were not received, and others received inferior products or incomplete orders. Consumers should research before they buy, read reviews and find companies you can trust on BBB.org/search before purchasing.
Hot toy scams
- Don’t be fooled by extra-low prices. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Last year, a Vancouver man reported to BBB Scam Tracker that he lost $640 after sending an e-transfer to an unknown seller in Victoria for a Playstation 5. The seller disappeared, stopped replying back to messages, and the phone number was promptly disconnected.
- Many families may be considering adding a furry friend to their household this year. Be sure to see the pet in person before making a purchase, if possible. While the number of cases are dropping, average monetary losses are still high, with an average loss of $850, according to our latest data. Double-check BBB Business Profiles to see any reviews or complaints about dog breeders.