The holidays are a prime time for scams. Don’t let the Grinch ruin your Christmas! Follow this advice to protect yourself.
Special thanks to USA Today for the inspiration for this article.
Here are a few of the most commom holiday scams
1. PUPPY SCAM
PROBLEM: The American Kennel Club wants you to be very careful over the next couple weeks if you are considering a puppy as a Christmas gift.
Criminals are stealing pictures of legit puppies for sale and posting them on Craigslist or elsewhere. Then they get money from you for the supposed puppies for sale and…you guessed it…the puppy never materializes and you get a big fat nothingburger instead of a fat furball.
SOLUTION: Know who you’re dealing with. Meet them in person and see the puppies in person. Do not send money to an unknown person in advance of getting the puppies.
2. VACATION HOME RENTAL SCAM
PROBLEM: If you’re looking to take a last-minute trip during the holidays, beware that crooks are posting bogus listings for vacation rentals on Craigslist. These listings may have tons of pictures and a lengthy description of a real house. But the poster doesn’t own the property!
Unsuspecting vacationers are paying in advance, usually by check or Western Union wire. The supposed “landlord” takes the money, of course. Then when you go to the place — perhaps after traveling across the country — you find that you can’t stay there.
A variation of this scam recently happened to me, but I didn’t lose any money thankfully.
SOLUTION: Google the actual address of the place you’re planning to stay. Verify that the same e-mail address is being used across the web whenever you find the property listed. Pay by credit card to limit your risk. You can always dispute the charge if the rental turns out to be a scam.
3. GRANDPARENT SCAM
PROBLEM: Particularly around the holidays, crooks call senior citizens and impersonate their adult grandchildren in order to hit them up for money. Here’s how a typical conversation might go:
The phone rings and the senior picks up…
Scamster: (in a low tone) Grandma?
Senior: Is that you, Jimmy?
Scamster: Yes, it’s me and I’m in trouble. I’m in jail. I need you to wire money so I can get out.
The typical take on this scam is anywhere between $3,000 and $4,000. There’s even a “reload” on this one. If the scamster gets money, they’ll have another person call up impersonating a police officer and ask for additional funds in order for their grandchild to be released. They claim there are extra charges for property damage. Once the money is taken, you’ll never see it again.
SOLUTION: Never give out personal info over the phone or send money to unknown sources through a wire service.
4. LOTTERY SCAM
PROBLEM: Who couldn’t use some extra money around the holidays? If you’re a senior, beware of a call saying you’ve won a lottery, but need to either pay money or divulge sensitive account information to claim the winnings.
With the lottery scams, your savings are not eroded all at once. Once you take the bait initially and send some money in, you’re put on the sucker list. That marks you to receive future calls or solicitations about other alleged lottery winnings. It’s a classic reload, as I mentioned above.
My mother even fell victim to a reload scam involving phony charities about a decade ago. After her initial misjudgment in giving a bogus charity some money, she started receiving literally hundreds of solicitations from others in the mail every week.
SOLUTION: In my family, we are 4 siblings with a nonagenarian mom who has dementia. So we’ve divided up duties. As you might expect, I handle money stuff for her. Have you set up a plan like this in your family? You’ve got to be ready to parcel out duties among family as a parent’s capacity diminishes.