BBB warns of '12 scams of Christmas'

The Better Business Bureau is warning consumers of 12 common scams during the Christmas season

"Each year at Christmas consumers lose millions of dollars to scam artist who rip them off," says Steven J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois

The BBB's "dirty dozen" for 2015 are:

Look-alike websites: Be sure you're shopping online on legitimate websites. The BBB says to watch out for URLS that use the names of well-known brands long with extra words.

Fake shipping notifications: Be careful when clicking links in shipping notification emails, and always verify the shipping company before giving out any personal information.

Phony charities: It's the season of giving, but make sure to research and double check charities and their site URLs. BBB.org offers guidance when seeking out a charity to donate to.

Stolen credit card information: As you should do throughout the year, carefully watch your credit card statements to make sure you recognize all the charges. If there are unknown charges, your information may have been stolen or you may have been part of a data breach.

Smartphone scammers: Malware can access your smartphone through apps. Be sure to download only official payment and personal security apps.

Viral E-cards: Avoid malware by verifying that e-cards are from someone you know and are from a trustworthy website.

Free gift cards: Ads or emails offering free gift cards are just a ploy to get your personal information, which can be used for identity theft.

Social media gift exchange: Buying one gift and getting 36 in return may sound like a great deal, but it's just a newer variation on a pyramid scheme and is illegal.

Unusual forms of payment: Beware of anyone asking you to pay for holiday purchases using prepaid debit cards, gift cards, wire transfers, or third parties as those payments cannot be traced or undone. Use a credit card on a secure website whose URL begins with "https" (the "s" is for "secure") and displays a lock symbol in your browser address bar.

Phone scams: Be suspicious of phone calls from people who claim your computer and say they need your information to fix it. Likewise, be suspicious of any utility company or bank calling and asking for personal information and prepaid debit card payments for supposedly overdue balances or account problems.

Letters from Santa: A number of trusted companies offer personalized letters from Santa, but scammers often mimic them to get personal information from unsuspecting parents. Visit BBB.org for a list of companies offering legitimate Santa letters.

Free USB drives: Beware of free USB drives in giveaways; they are an easy way for hackers to spread malware.

For more information on current scams targeting consumers, visit BBB Scam Stopper.
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