The 12 Scams of Christmas for 2017

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Scammers make a killing during the holiday season. While you spend your time thinking of ways to bring holiday joy to others, they spend their time thinking up ways to steal from you. The saddest part about this is that the ghosts of Christmases past keep visiting Christmas present.

With that, I give you this year’s 12 scams of Christmas.

  1. The Gift Card Scam

While definitely a ghost of Christmas past, this still works so scammers still do it. It’s pretty simple. The thief records the numbers displayed on a gift card, and then calls the company that issued it to find out if it has been activated, which occurs when the card is purchased. The problem here is one of timing. If you buy a gift card early in the shopping season, it’s more exposed to fraud. That said, recipients of gift cards often take a while to use them.

Tip: If you are going to purchase a gift card, do it as close to Christmas Day as possible, and encourage the recipient to use it as soon as possible.

  1. Sneak Attacks on Your Credit

With the non-stop news of data breaches involving credit card numbers, many of us are walking around with compromised payment cards that can be used by a scammer, and there is no more perfect time of the year for them to try than Christmas. The usual warning signs of an account takeover, or a fraudulent charge, may be harder for financial institutions to spot, since Christmas gifts often don’t conform to a cardholder’s buying patterns.

Tip: Sign up for transaction alerts from your bank or credit card issuer that notify you any time there is activity on your accounts.

  1. Fake Charities

While it’s not exactly the way it plays out in our nation’s malls and shopping districts, Christmas is traditionally a time for contemplation and charitable giving—something captured very well in Charles Dickens’s classic, “A Christmas Carol.” So if you want to give during the holiday season, it’s crucial to make sure the appeal is real.

Tip: Before responding to an online appeal, visit the website by typing in the organization’s URL manually, or by using search to find the link. If you are still unsure, call. If you are still uncomfortable, use Charity Navigator or contact the Office of the Attorney General in your state to confirm the organization’s authenticity.

  1. Temporary Holiday Jobs

Holiday jobs are a good way to make some extra money, and there are a lot of them, but bear in mind there are myriad scammers out there who may offer fake jobs to harvest your very real personally identifiable information—the most valuable of which being your Social Security number.

Tip: Don’t give your Social Security number to anyone unless you absolutely have to, and don’t provide it before you confirm you’re dealing with a representative of a real organization that has offered a job to you. Never send your information digitally unless you know the recipient uses proper security protocols. (You may not be using secure tech either, so try to be conservative about what you send digitally.)

  1. Phishing, Vishing and Smishing

You might receive a phone call, a text or an email. It doesn’t matter what the delivery system is, it’s a fraud but it won’t necessarily look like one. It could look like a sales promotion from a brand you like, or an offer on a deal that seems too good to be true, or even just “pretty good.” Scam artists can be very nuanced. Be on the alert before you act on any offer.

Tips: Check to see the URL matches exactly, and that you never provide any personal information on any web page unless the URL is secure and starts with “https.” Email links should always be considered suspect.

  1. True Love

The holidays can be lonely, and catphishers know that. Love scams are the worst, as they prey on the emotions in the most exploitative ways disarming the heartstrings with an eye to loosening purse strings. The money lost can be considerable, and the upset unfathomable.

Tip: As corny as it seems, be careful with your heart and don’t give it away to just anyone. If you feel like you’re falling for someone and they somehow can never make an in-person appearance, don’t send them money to do so. You can do better.

  1. Hotel Scams

You might fall victim to the restaurant flyer scam, the menu for a non-existent eatery shoved under the door resulting in an order that gets you robbed, or it could be the front desk scam where you get a call after check-in asking for another credit card number because “the one you provided was rejected.”

Tip: Assume the worst when in unfamiliar territory, and be on guard when traveling. Always distrust. Always verify.

  1. Fake online shops

This is a tough one, but here’s the deal… Bargain? Amazing prices on things that should cost a lot more than they are asking on a fake online shop is alluring, which is why people fall for them all the time. Pop up shops are cool, but they may not always be legit.

Tip: Look at the About Us page and call the designated contact number. If there is no number, think twice before making a purchase. Also pay attention to detail. Are there spelling errors in the copy? Bad-looking stock photos? Look for trouble.

  1. E-Cards

We all appreciate the sentiment behind an e-card, but that should not outweigh the risk of malware that can take a computer hostage or record every keystroke so that your most sensitive credentials for financial accounts can be stolen. E-cards are a popular form of fraud among scam artists, and you should be very cautious when you receive one.

Tip: Email, call or text the sender and ask if they sent an e-card. In this environment of constant attack, they will understand (and if they don’t, your Christmas present to them can be forwarding this column).

  1. E-voucher scams

This scam is built for people old enough to remember a physical, printed voucher, which, presented in person at a brick and mortar store, would get you a discount. They were basically a coupon. E-vouchers are fine if they come in the form of a number sequence, discount code or keyword, but anything else should be considered suspect.

Tip: Be on the lookout for grammar or spelling errors. Always type in the URL of the site for which you have an e-voucher, and enter the code or number there. If it comes by way of text or email and it involves a link, don’t click through. 

  1. Fake Shipping Notifications

What could be worse than a message from your favorite e-tailer letting you know that the must-have item you ordered is out of stock or was sent to the wrong address. Another oldie but goodie among thieves is a notice informing you that the “Item has been delivered” when it hasn’t been.

Tip: Never click any link associated with this type of communication. Always log onto the e-tailer site for more information, or pick up your phone and call.

  1. Wish list scams

Online wish lists are a bad practice that should be discouraged. In theory, the online wish list creates a place where friends and relatives can find out what you want for Christmas, which many find preferable to guesswork. Beyond being horribly transactional, the practice opens the list-maker to phishing attacks, since scam artists will automatically know what interests you.

Tip: If you must post a wish list online, custom set the privacy on the post so that only particular people can see it, and don’t include any personally identifiable information.

At Christmas it’s always better to give the gift, than be the gift that keeps on giving to identity thieves.

If your personal information does fall into the hands of a scammer, be sure to monitor your credit for signs of identity theft. You can do so by viewing your free credit report snapshot, updated every 14 days, on


Image: iStock

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80-Year-Old Walmart Greeter Gets a $1700 Holiday Surprise from Local Community

Veronica Juneau, 28, of Big Lake, Minn. launched a fundraising campaign to give Ray Belanger, a local Walmart greeter, a special Christmas present. On Dec. 18, 2016, Ray supporters gathered at Jump City to celebrate. (Photo Credit: Rico Roman for MagnifyMoney)

When 28-year-old Veronica Juneau first starting shopping at the Walmart in Elk River, Minn., earlier this year, she was met with a fist bump by Ray Belanger, the designated greeter. In fact, she noticed that every person who walked through the glass doors, whether a child or an adult, was met with a high-five or a joke.

“He’s always just so cheery and lively,” says Juneau, who lives in Big Lake and is a full-time student at North Hennepin Community College. “When I’m having a bad day, he makes me feel happy. He doesn’t even try, it’s just who he is.”

After a local news station ran a story about Belanger last spring, members of a community Facebook group began to discuss joining forces to do something nice for Belanger. When the holidays came around, Juneau came up with an idea: she would start a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe to raise money to give Belanger a special present this Christmas. She started with a goal to raise $2,000.

Photo: Alyssa Mae DeMers?
80-year-old Ray Belanger became a Walmart greeter in Elk River, Minn. two years ago after retiring from his job at an iron scrapyard. He’s quickly become a local celebrity. “I talk to them and make them happy,” says Belanger. Photo credit: Alyssa Mae DeMers

“We want to show just how much he’s impacted the community just by being himself,” explains Juneau. “And because he can’t receive gifts while on the job, I wanted to create an online campaign for people who moved away and miss his spirit, or don’t have time to meet with him outside of Walmart.”

A Rocky Start

At the end of November, Juneau posted a link to the campaign on the local Facebook group’s message board. But it was a rocky start. Because that group does not allow posts that ask people for money, moderators wanted to remove it. Some group members expressed disapproval of the campaign, arguing that GoFundMe campaigns should be used for people with severe economic hardship or life-threatening medical conditions. “I felt a little discouraged at first, because some people had posted rude comments,” says Juneau.

On the upside, a small group of supporters started to share the campaign on their personal social media pages, and it soon began trending on GoFundMe. Within a few hours, there were about 200 shares, then 1,000. In a few days, was shared more than 1,200 times. Since the campaign was created at the end of November, it has raised nearly $1,700 from 86 contributors.

“And I’m baffled,” says Juneau. “I thought the community might raise maybe a couple hundred dollars, and I never expected it to get as far as it did.”

Belanger celebrated with friends and family at a party organized in his honor on Dec. 18, 2016 in Ostego, Minn. (Photo Credit: Rico Roman for MagnifyMoney)

For his part, 80-year-old Belanger is humbled by the show of support. Before becoming a Walmart greeter two years ago, he worked at an iron scrapyard while juggling other jobs. “It’s in my nature to be friendly,” he told MagnifyMoney. “I like to talk to people, to ask them how they’re doing. I stop them and ask, ‘whose idea was it to shop this lovely evening when it’s snowing?’ I just don’t stand there and look at them. I talk to them and make them happy.”

‘I Like to Talk to People’

Because Belanger doesn’t have a computer, he’s been concerned about getting the chance to thank everyone who has contributed to the campaign. “I didn’t expect it, but I am appreciating every minute of it,” says Belanger, who has four kids and seven grandkids. “I’ve got to thank all these people somehow.”

To give Belanger a chance to thank everyone in person, Juneau and her friend Alyssa Mae DeMers organized a potluck the Sunday before Christmas. Belanger was met by the smiling faces of longtime Walmart customers, family, and friends.

Friends and supporters do the greeting for once, welcoming Walmart greeter Ray Belanger at a party organized in his honor on Dec. 18, 2017. Supporters raised $1,700 for Ray through crowdfunding site (Photo Credit: Rico Roman for MagnifyMoney)
Friends and supporters do the greeting for once, welcoming Walmart greeter Ray Belanger at a party organized in his honor on Dec. 18, 2017. Supporters raised $1,700 for Ray through crowdfunding site (Photo Credit: Rico Roman for MagnifyMoney)

When asked what he plans to do with the generous cash gift, Belanger thought immediately of his wife, Phyllis, who is 75 and retired from cleaning homes and local businesses. “[I’ll] probably put it in a savings account for [my] wife,” he says.

A Chance to Connect

Juneau recommends those who also want to give to others not to hesitate. “If you think something is worth doing, then do it,” she says. “Because if you don’t get out there and you don’t do anything, you won’t know where the community stands.”

Already, she is feeling more connected to the community where she has lived less than two years. She moved to the area in the summer of 2015 from southeast Minnesota with her young son but no other family in the area.

“It’s so awesome for the community to come together for a cause,” says Juneau. “So many people have been supportive, by sharing the campaign, and with their nice comments and generous donations. It just goes to show how one man who went above and beyond ‘just doing his job’ can touch people. You affect people every day, whether you realize it or not. People are so genuinely in love with Ray that they just want to give to him.”


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