There’s been a post circulating on social media inviting users to buy one $15 bottle of wine, send it to a secret wine lover and receive six to 36 bottles back. For connoisseurs, it sounds like a dreamy winter wonderland, that is, until you get the ice-cold truth: it’s a scam.
“Social media gift exchanges sound great in theory but they’re ultimately just a variation of a pyramid scheme and they’re illegal to participate in and orchestrate,” says Emma Borski, spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau of Central Ontario. “They’re also mathematically impossible to sustain in the long run.”
Naturally, scammers have a way of preying on Canadians holiday cheer and subverting that for their own gain. Yahoo Canada Finance looked at a few of the ways scam artists might try to Grinch you this holiday season and how to avoid them.
Social media scams
As the aforementioned “secret wine club” shows, fraudsters have found fresh territory in the world of social media. “You sometimes hear ‘buy one gift, get 36 in return’ or it sometimes goes by the Secret Sister Gift Exchange,” says Borski. “Again it’s a pyramid scheme, it’s illegal, it’s not a reputable way to earn gifts this holiday season.”
Fake shopping sites
Last minute holiday shoppers should also be weary when buying presents online, says Gary Genik, senior vice president and Chief Information Officer at Meridian Credit Union. “It seems like it would be fairly obvious to spot a fake online storefront, but cyber criminals are smart about making these stores look legitimate,” he says. “Some of these sites price most products competitively, but then they list other items ridiculously low to entice shoppers.” The regular priced goods are there to give the ruse some credibility and help the shop front show up on Google.
Snow removal scams
“Never agree to deal with a snow removal company that goes door-to-door seeking new customers,” says Borski. Instead, she cautions consumers to research the company before hiring someone, especially if they want the money upfront. “Most reputable snow removal companies will offer consumers the option to pay for their services after the work has been completed,” she adds.
There are also a slew of fraudsters preying on Canadians spirit of giving by collecting for bogus charities. The best way to avoid getting duped is to avoid handing over personal information or money to canvassers. Websites like Smart Giving and Canada Helps can help you identify and donate to the legitimate charities and ensure your money ends up where you intend it to go.
Another scam to be weary of are e-cards from so-called secret Santas. These can act as vessels for viruses and malware, says Borski. “Major red flags to watch out for include if the sender’s name is not apparent or if you’re required to share additional information or financial information in order to obtain the card,” she says. “Usually those are the type of correspondences we want consumers to delete.”
Holiday mystery shoppers
Genik notes that texts and emails offering “mystery shopper jobs” tend to crop up around this time of year. “Text messages provide another avenue for cyber criminals to try and trick us,” he says. “Never provide any personal information or click on links sent through unsolicited text messages.”
Borski cautions the same, pointing out that most businesses aren’t typically going to pay $400 or more a week to mystery shoppers or special assignments. “This time of year people are looking for extra cash and ways to make money fast so they can provide better gifts or travel (so) it’s an easier time for these types of scams to (victimize) individuals,” says Borksi. “If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.”