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How to avoid online scams while shopping

The Better Business Bureau is warning people from buying gifts on social media sites like Facebook.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Black Friday is one of the busiest shopping days of the year, and it's only set to get bigger this year. This is also a very busy time for cyber thieves and credit cards aren't the only thing being swiped... your information could be too, consumer experts warn.

Scam artists come out in full force during the holiday shopping season. They know people are desperate to get their gifts in time, which can make them less cautious when checking the validity of a site or social media ads.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) says that online shopping was the top scam reported to their scam tracker in 2020.

The BBB's scam tracker lets people see scams both near them and across the country. They can even check out online stores that have been reported to make sure they don't fall into the same trap.

"If it looks too good to be true, it probably is," said Reanna Smith-Hamblin, President & CEO of the Better Business Bureau.

The BBB recently released warnings for the top 12 scams currently targeting consumers.

Here's the list:

1. Misleading Social Media Ads: As you scroll through your social media feed, you often see items for sale from a small business. BBB Scam Tracker receives reports of people paying for items that they never receive, getting charged monthly for a free trial they never signed up for, or receiving an item that is counterfeit or much different from the one advertised.

2. Social Media Gift Exchanges: This new scam revolves around exchanging bottles of wine; another suggests purchasing $10 gifts online. Another twist asks you to submit your email into a list where participants get to pick a name and send money to strangers to "pay it forward." In each version, participants unwittingly share their personal information, along with those of their family members and friends, and are further tricked into buying and shipping gifts or money to unknown individuals. And-- it's an illegal pyramid scheme.

3. Holiday Apps: Apple's App Store and Google Play list dozens of holiday-themed apps where children can video chat live with Santa, light the menorah, watch Santa feed live reindeer, track his sleigh on Christmas Eve, or relay their holiday wish lists. This holiday season, like last year when COVID-19 caused children to skip the traditional in-person visit with Santa, apps may play a more important role than ever. Review privacy policies to see what information will be collected. Be wary of free apps, as they can sometimes contain more advertising than apps that require a nominal fee. Free apps can also contain malware.

4. Alerts About Compromised Accounts: BBB has been receiving reports on Scam Tracker about a con claiming your Amazon, PayPal, Netflix or bank account has been compromised. Victims receive an email, call, or text message which explains that there has been suspicious activity on one of their accounts, and it further urges them to take immediate action to prevent the account from being compromised. Be extra cautious about unsolicited calls, emails, and texts.

5. Free Gift Cards: Scammers have been known to send bulk phishing emails requesting personal information to receive free gift cards. In some of these emails, scammers impersonate legitimate companies like Starbucks and promise gift cards to loyal customers that have been supporting their business throughout the pandemic. They may also use pop-up ads or send text messages with links saying you were randomly selected as the winner for a prize.

6. Temporary Holiday Jobs: Retailers typically hire seasonal workers to help meet the demands of holiday shoppers. Shippers and delivery services are top holiday employers this year because of the increase in online orders and the need to get most of these packages delivered before Christmas. However, be wary of employment scams aimed at stealing money and personal information from job applicants. Keep an eye out for opportunities that seem too good to be true.

7. Look-Alike Websites: The holiday season brings endless emails offering deals, sales, and bargains. Be wary of emails with links enclosed. Some may lead to look-alike websites created by scammers to trick people into downloading malware, making dead-end purchases, and share private information. If you are uncertain about the email, do not click any of the links.

8. Fake Charities: Donors are advised to look out for fraudulent charities and scammers pretending to be individuals in need. Avoid impromptu donation decisions to unfamiliar organizations. Responsible organizations will welcome a gift tomorrow as much as they do today. Verify a charity at BBB's give.org or on the Canada Revenue Agency website.

9. Fake Shipping Notifications: More consumers are making purchases online, there is also an increase in the number of notifications about shipping details from retailers and carriers. Scammers are using this new surge to send phishing emails with links enclosed that may allow unwanted access to your private information or download malware onto your device. They may also try to trick people into paying new shipping fees.

10. Pop-Up Holiday Virtual Events: This year, many local in-person events such as pop-up holiday markets or craft fairs, have moved online. Scammers are creating fake event pages, social media posts, and emails, charging admission for what used to be a free event. The goal is to steal credit card information. Confirm with the organizer of the event if there is an admission fee.

11. Top Holiday Wishlist Items: Low or ridiculously priced luxury goods, jewelry, designer clothing, and electronics are almost always cheap counterfeits and knockoffs. This year, game consoles are in high demand. Be very cautious when considering purchasing these high-value items from individuals through social sites.

12. Puppy Scams: Many families, especially those with children, may be considering adding a furry friend to their household this year. However, you could fall victim to pet scams, which are on the rise this year. Request to see the pet in person before making a purchase.

Reanna Smith-Hamblin, President & CEO of the Better Business Bureau says if you're worried about shopping online, there's an easy way to avoid scams... by shopping local.

"The product is in your hand. it's there. you know you aren't getting scammed you know who you are dealing with," she said.

But if you have a scam you want the Better Business Bureau to check out, or if you want to see other scams that have been reported, you can check those out here.

RELATED: Here are the last days you can send out gifts to arrive before Dec. 25

RELATED: USPS, FedEx, UPS announce 2021 holiday shipping deadlines

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