WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — While most people in Middle Tennessee are shopping, cooking, hanging decorations, and celebrating with loved ones during the holidays, scammers spend the season searching for new targets.

In order to help keep your holidays merry and bright, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) shared the “12 scams of Christmas,” as well as tips for how to avoid becoming a victim of someone from Santa’s naughty list.

In the words of the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office, “Keep your holidays safe and jolly by not falling for these follies!”

Compromised account alerts

The BBB’s Scam Tracker has received reports about a con claiming your bank account, Amazon, Netflix, or PayPal has been compromised.

The victims allegedly receive a text message, phone call, or email saying there has been suspicious activity on one of their accounts and urging them to take immediate action to correct the issue.

According to officials, these alerts typically include a link or phone number that appears to be safe but actually isn’t.

Look-alike websites

With the holiday season bringing countless emails promoting deals, sales, and bargains, you need to be careful if there are any links enclosed because it’s very easy for scammers to mimic real websites, authorities warned.

According to the BBB, some of these links may lead to look-alike websites created to trick you into downloading malware, making dead-end purchases, or sharing private information.

You are encouraged to look for the “https” and lock symbol at the top of the webpage — since the “s” stands for secure — and check the spelling of the web address for any additional or substitute letters intended to make the site look legitimate. You should also hover over the link before clicking on it to see where it reroutes you.

Fake shipping notifications

Since so many people are shopping online these days, there is also a rise in the number of notifications you receive from retailers and carriers about shipping details.

However, this surge in shipping notifications has led to a scam that reportedly uses multiple techniques:

  • You could receive a phishing email with attachments or links that could download malware to your computer to steal your personal information or download malware.
  • You could receive a nondescript postcard instructing you to call the number on the card, which could lead to you revealing private details, such as when your home is vacant.
  • You could be tricked into paying new shipping fees.

Phony charities

The final weeks of the year are a busy time for charitable donations, but scammers like to take advantage of your holiday spirit by sending you fake charity solicitations via email, phone, and social media, according to officials.

The BBB recommends not making impromptu donation decisions involving unfamiliar organizations, adding that responsible groups “will welcome a gift tomorrow as much as they do today.”

In addition, you are encouraged to make donations on the charity’s website using a credit card if possible.

If you want to verify a charity, you can use the BBB’s Give.org or the Canada Revenue Agency website.

Temporary holiday jobs

Plenty of companies — like retailers, shippers, and delivery services — need extra help to meet the increased demand during the holiday season. Not only do seasonal jobs serve as a way to make extra money, but they may provide an opportunity for long-term employment.

However, you are urged to avoid job postings that seem too good to be true, ask you to share personal information, or pay for job leads.

Holiday apps

There are lots of seasonal apps listed on Google Play and Apple’s App Store during the holidays, including apps that let children video chat with Santa, watch him feed live reindeer, share their wish lists, light a menorah, or track Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve, according to the BBB.

Officials recommend checking out the apps’ privacy policies to see what information is being collected.

You should also watch out for free apps, which may contain more advertising than paid apps, as well as malware.

Misleading social media ads

Social media users often come across product advertisements as they scroll through their feed, but make sure to do your research before you buy. This includes checking out the business profile on the BBB website and reading the reviews.

The BBB said its Scam Tracker receives daily reports about people buying items they never received, getting charged each month for a free trial they never signed up for, or receiving an item that is counterfeit or noticeably different than the one advertised.

In fact, according to the 2022 BBB Online Scams Report, online purchase scams were the most common cons reported to the BBB Scam Tracker.

Pop-up holiday events

Plenty of pop-up holiday markets and craft fairs have moved online amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, there are also scammers building fake event pages, social media posts, and emails so they can charge you an admission fee for what used to be a free event, authorities warned. The goal is to steal your banking or credit card information.

In order to avoid being scammed, the BBB suggests asking the event organizer if there is an admission fee. If so, use a credit card, but if not, beware of scammers trying to claim otherwise.

Holiday wish lists

When you’re buying popular toys that are in high demand — such as Squishmallows, Magic Mixies Magical Misting Crystal Ball, Snap Circuits, Breyer Horses Unicorn Magic Wood Stable, or National Geographic Break Open Geodes — from resellers on Facebook Marketplace or other platforms, be very cautious. According to the BBB, these items almost always end up being cheap counterfeits and knockoffs.

The same warning reportedly applies to purchasing low-priced electronics, luxury goods, jewelry, and designer clothes from online resellers.

Social media gift exchanges

While it sounds fun to buy one gift so you can receive many more in return, this practice is actually an illegal pyramid scheme, officials said.

“A newer version of this scam revolves around exchanging bottles of wine; another suggests purchasing $10 gifts online,” the BBB explained. “Another twist asks you to submit your email into a list where participants get to pick a name and send money to strangers to ‘pay it forward.’ There is even a twist about ‘Secret Santa Dog’ where you buy a $10 gift for your ‘secret dog.'” 

In each version, participants are sharing their personal details, as well as those of their friends and relatives, and are further conned into buying and sending presents or money to strangers.

Gift card scams

Gift cards seem like a great, stress-free idea when you’re doing your holiday shopping, but be careful when you buy them.

For example, avoid gift cards that are displayed in the open. If you choose a card in a package, inspect or open the package in front of the cashier to make sure it has not been replaced with a fake. Also, keep your receipt and, if possible, register the card online with a new PIN.

Another element to gift card cons involves scammers sending bulk phishing emails asking for personal details in order to receive free gift cards, the BBB said.

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Some of these emails will reportedly impersonate legitimate companies while promising gift cards as a reward for loyal customers. Scammers may also turn to pop-up ads or text messages with links saying you were randomly selected as a prize winner.

If you receive an unsolicited email offering gift cards, mark it as spam or junk without opening it. However, if do open the email, do not click on any links.

Shopping for furry friends

There are plenty of people who decide to give pets as presents during the holiday season, but authorities urge consumers to be skeptical of online animal sales.

According to the BBB, 80% of sponsored pet advertisements may be fake, so make sure to see the pet in person before you purchase it.

In addition, you could receive an animal from a puppy mill, increasing the likelihood of health issues, or you may not receive anything, officials warn.

Instead, take the time to research reputable dealers and potential pet breeds, and consider reaching out to your local animal shelter.

For more holiday tips from the BBB, follow this link. You can also report online scams to the BBB Scam Tracker.