In from ScamBusters:
How to Spot a Holiday Scam -- and Find Genuine Bargains
Bogus online stores and websites peddling cheap knock-offs of
branded products masquerading as the real thing are at the top
of the big holiday scams of 2009.
As we head into one of the busiest shopping and traveling
periods of the year, it pays to wise up to the Thanksgiving
and Christmas scam risks that the increasingly smart crooks
have lined up.
In fact, the just published 2009 Online Buyer Economic Trends
Study reckons many people already started their holiday
shopping as early as mid-September -- and, presumably, some
have already found out about holiday scams the hard way.
For starters, it's worth taking a look back at some of our
previous holiday scam warnings, which you will find here.
They include important information on travel scams, which we
haven't included again this year.
You'll also see that phony websites have occupied the Number 1
Christmas scam slot for several years.
There are three things that make the threat even greater this
1. The massive increase in online shopping that retail experts
are expecting. For the first time ever, more than half of all
consumers are expected to buy online.
That includes some who are dipping a toe in the Internet
buying waters for the first time, especially older users who
now feel comfortable enough to try their hand at the
convenience of web shopping.
2. The economic woes of the past year have made shoppers more
bargain-conscious than ever.
The lowest price is often the biggest draw -- even when the
buyer has never heard of the retailer before.
3. The move online of the busiest sales promotion of the year
-- the so-called Black Friday sales that follow Thanksgiving.
Instead of turning up for the 4am doorbusters, more shoppers
will be staying home and logging on and battling for the
All of these things play on a human weakness: when someone
appears to sell at rock bottom prices or even just tells us
that they slashed their prices, we just want to believe we got
That won't be the case if the item you ordered doesn't turn up
or, even if it does, it's not what you expected. You've just
fallen for a holiday scam.
Countries where copyright laws hardly exist and forgery isn't
a dirty word are churning stuff out, often bearing well known
brand names, other times just cheap and nasty lookalikes,
whose only guarantee is to tarnish the sparkle of your holiday
And remember, the sellers likely will have your credit card
number and other personal details to do with what they will.
So, here are 5 quick tips to help protect you from online
holiday shopping scams:
1. Buying from reputable dealers should be a safe bet. But
always check the address bar in your browser to make sure
you're where you should be! Scammers are experts at creating
phony lookalike sites where you land after mistyping an
address or by following a link.
2. However, don't rule out newcomers and smaller firms. We
don't want to stifle enterprise or genuine bargains! But if
you don't recognize the name, check it out -- Google it and
look for scam reports. Do your research and, if you're even
slightly suspicious, follow your instincts.
3. If the seller accepts it, especially if you're buying from
an auction site, consider paying with PayPal. They can
safeguard your purchase -- and they do safeguard your credit
However, when you get to the PayPal site, especially if you
used a link to get there, make doubly sure you're at
paypal.com, not some bogus rip-off site that will harvest your
sign-on details and clean out your account.
And, of course, never pay by money wire; they're untraceable
and the biggest clue to an online holiday scam. And be careful
using cashiers checks as well.
4. When you're bargain-hunting, use recognized price
comparison sites like Pricegrabber.com, Shopzilla.com,
Nextag.com or special offer sites likes Bargainist.com or
Techbargains.com -- to name a few.
Looking for the best price on books? Try Addall.com, which
will do all the searching for you.
Of course, they don't guarantee the legitimacy of the firms
they reference but your chances of becoming a Christmas scam
victim are significantly lower.
There are also a couple of daily bargain sites -- Woot.com and
Yugster.com -- that you can buy from directly. And don't
forget to check out our own guide to the season at
ChristmasRants.com and WowGiftIdeas.com
5. Make sure it really is a bargain. Retailers of every shade
are experts at making prices look like bargains, claiming
things like "75% off." And maybe they are 75% off -- but do a
price comparison check with others first.
Online shopping may be the major target for this year's
holiday scam crooks. But here are a few other things to watch
out for this season:
* People selling stuff at your front door. We warned about
this holiday scam in 2008 but there's a new twist for 2009.
Holiday light installation services are the big thing this
year -- mostly enterprising individuals who have perhaps lost
their jobs and have seen a profitable gap in the market.
You'll get a flyer offering to provide, install and uninstall
the lights for anywhere between $100 and $250.
We're not recommending that you not use them. They can save a
lot of hassle. But don't pay upfront, not even a deposit if
you can avoid it. Don't fall for the line that they need all
the money to buy the lights.
Also, make sure you get a written guarantee that they'll
remove them (hold back part of the payment till they're taken
down) and make sure you know who owns the lights once they're
* Fake eCards. This is a whole subject in itself. But you can
be sure they'll be as big a hit as ever as holiday scams. You
get a message with a link to an online greeting card but, when
you click it, you end up with a virus on your PC.
A couple of simple rules here. Delete any messages that come
from someone you don't know or that don't address you by name.
If they do come from someone you know, email that person to
check that they sent it before clicking the link.
* Holiday rentals. 2009 has seen a surge in ads offering bogus
vacation rentals. You pay a deposit or even in full to get a
key and that's the last you hear of them.
Classified websites are fraught with this danger -- and it can
be very difficult to check their authenticity.
Of course, there are many legitimate owners offering rentals
this way -- and countless more online. But investigate them
carefully; check testimonials, do a search for other
references. And again, don't wire cash.
There are now a large number of online rental agencies who vet
owners and this may be a safer bet.
* Phony seasonal jobs. Yes, real seasonal jobs do exist,
mainly in retail but also a few in packing and manufacturing,
but this year there are fewer of them and more people chasing
Seasonal work at home schemes, like toy assembly, are usually
scams. For retail and packing jobs, deal directly with the
employer or a reputable agency -- and never pay to get work.
It's a scam.
We have several issues covering work from home scams. Start
here, if you want to know more.
For the law-abiding majority of citizens, the winter holiday
season should be a time to celebrate and rejoice. For the
holiday scam artists it's one of the biggest money-making
opportunities of the year. Make sure you don't give them
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!