BBB warns of new holiday scams

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois, explains how to avoid falling victim to scams during the holiday season.


BBB Warning: Avoid These Holiday Scams
December 2, 2015

Santa isn't the only one keeping track of who is naughty and who is nice! Better Business Bureau is warning consumers to beware of these common holiday scams:

Look-alike websites: When shopping online, make sure to use only legitimate websites. Watch out for URLs that use the names of well-known brands along with extra words.

Fake shipping notifications: These can have attachments or links to sites that will download malware on your computer to steal your identity and your passwords. Don't be fooled by a holiday phishing scam.

E-cards: Electronic cards can be great fun, but be careful. Two red flags to watch out for are: the sender's name is not apparent; you are required to share additional information to get the card.

Letters from Santa: Several trusted companies offer charming and personalized letters from Santa, but scammers mimic them to get personal information from unsuspecting parents. Check with to find out which ones are legitimate.

Grandparents scam: Seniors should be cautious if they get a call from a grandchild claiming to be in an accident, arrested or hospitalized while traveling in another country. Never send money unless you confirm with another family member that it's true.

Phony charities: Everyone is in a generous mood at the holidays, so scammers take advantage of that with fake charity solicitations in email, on social media sites, and even by text. Check out charities at before donating.

Temporary holiday jobs: Retailers and delivery services need extra help at the holidays, but beware of solicitations that require you to share personal information online or pay for a job lead. Apply in person or go to retailers' main websites to find out who is hiring.

Unusual forms of payment: Be wary of anyone who asks you to pay for holiday purchases using prepaid debit cards, gift cards, wire transfers, third parties, etc. These payments cannot be traced and cannot be undone. Use a credit card on a secure website; look for https in the address (the extra "s" is for "secure") and the lock symbol.

Free gift cards: Pop-up ads or email offering free gift cards are often just a ploy to get your personal information that can later be used for identity theft.

Social media gift exchange: It sounds like a great deal; buy one gift and get 36 in return. But it's just a variation on a pyramid scheme and it's illegal.

To find out more about scams or to report one, go to BBB Scam Stopper.

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Surprise! U.S. Gov't Letter May Look Like A Scam: But It's Authentic
December 10, 2015

All too often people receive a letter or get an email warning them of identity theft or urging them to provide personal information for what appears to be an official or legitimate purpose. Most of these are fakes, designed instead to steal your personal identity information.

Now, people are receiving authentic letters from the U.S. Government Office of Personnel Management warning them that their personal information may have been compromised.

"People in our area, as well as other regions, are receiving letters offering free credit monitoring services and listing a website," explained Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. "Consumers have contacted the BBB because the letters look like scams, except in this case they are authentic."

Bernas explained that the legitimate letters are being sent by the Office of Personnel Management because of a cyber hack of government computers last year. He said it appears that the hack compromised the identity information of more than 21 million Americans, and that most of the affected people applied for or underwent government background investigations".

"While the letter may look like a scam, unfortunately it is not," Bernas stated. "As long as the letter provides a specific PIN number at the top and lists the specific URL of the letter should be considered authentic".

"The public's concern about this matter is legitimate and good," he noted. "People have become aware and sensitized to scam artists and identity thieves."

However, just because this letter from the Office of Personnel Management is legitimate, it doesn't mean the public should let down its guard.

Bernas warned that scammers may try to take advantage of the situation. "People should be on the lookout for emails, telephone calls and other interactions that may try to confuse people to give up personal information and steal their identities."

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