Rebecca Garland
Business and Education Expert

Most of us are looking forward to Christmas 2021. Lights are going up, families are spending time together, and the Christmas mood is brightening cities and houses alike. Stores are offering great deals for Christmas present shopping, and everyone is enjoying their own Christmas tradition and celebration.

Whether you’re looking for Christmas deals online or in stores, you’ll find plenty of great offers. The Christmas mood is right for shopping, wrapping, gifting, and celebrating, but be mindful that not everyone is looking to bring others joy this holiday season. Christmas scams are, unfortunately, just as common as ever. As you look forward to the Christmas 2021 season, be on the lookout for scammers and others looking to take advantage of shoppers this Christmas. 

As you search for the best Christmas deals online and in stores, use the tips and suggestions we include below to be sure you’re aware of the top tricks by scammers. We want you to enjoy your holiday season free of Christmas scams.

Top 6 Christmas Scams

Below is a list of the most common Christmas scam 2021 has to offer.

1. Gift Card Scams

Technology can be hard to beat sometimes, especially when someone is willing to use it to take advantage of Christmas deals. When someone unethical finds a way to steal serial numbers and barcodes from gift cards, they don’t need the actual card you purchased as Christmas gifts – they have all they need to access the funds. 

In their Fred Meyer Christmas review, one customer explained how gift card scams might work. The customer left a Fred Meyer Christmas complaint to share how their mother purchased gift cards at the store. When the receipts of the Christmas gifts went to use the cards, they found a balance of zero. Someone had “hacked the system to steal the serial number and pin in order to use the cards.” 

How to stay safe: In the case of hackers on a retail network, there isn’t many individual buyers can do if they want to give a present of money for Christmas Day. One thought might be to buy items instead of gift cards and include gift receipts for exchanges. Another idea might be to simply give cash on Christmas Day instead of a gift card to avoid any technology that might be susceptible to hackers. 

2. Social Media Gift Exchange Scams

The most common social media gift exchange preys on our good intentions. The scheme works like this: you join a “Secret Sister” or “Secret Santa” group. You give the group your personal information and invite other friends to join – the more members, the better! Then, you are supposed to buy gifts for certain folks, and in return, you’ll be getting potentially dozens of gifts sent to you! 

Of course, it only works because you have recruited more people to play after you, ensuring you get things, but they might not. While this sounds like a fun game to play during the holidays that might help boost your gift count, the BBB calls social media gift exchanges like this an illegal pyramid scheme, and the U.S. Postal service considers it gambling. If you participate, you can be charged with mail fraud with its associated fines and potential jail time.

Secret Sister scam alert

How to stay safe: If you are invited to join a gift exchange system like this with strangers online, ignore the invite or report it. Never give your information out through links online and focus on a gift exchange circle with your close friends and family instead.

3. Social Media Networks Giveaways 

Holiday giveaways are great promotions for companies, and they can land you a great deal or even a free item. Scammers know this and might create fake giveaways that look legitimate to try and collect personal information. 

If you are invited to participate in raffles or giveaways, you may be offered free coupons and gift cards. You will likely be given a link to a new page where the giveaway is happening. These might be fake social media pages for celebrities or popular brands. Once you interact with the page, you may be prompted to sign up with your personal information or asked to include your credit card information for free shipping on the item you “won.”

How to stay safe: To avoid this scam, simply be on the lookout for things that seem too good to be true. If it seems too good, it probably is. Some companies do offer legitimate giveaways, so you don’t need to skip every event or raffle. Just be sure you are on the company’s actual page and that you haven’t been redirected or sent to a new site. You should be able to find applicable terms and conditions on the official company’s website or social media page as well.

4. Fake Shipping Notification Emails

The holidays are a busy time for shipping. Scammers take advantage of the volume by trying to sneak a bit of extra information from you through shipping notifications. This usually shows up as an email from a “company” about a “shipping or delivery issue.” 

When customers click on the link provided in the email to resolve the “issue,” they are taken to a website where they are asked to provide personal information or login details for sites where they have stored payment information like Amazon or eBay. The scammer then can order items on their dime and have them sent to them instead of the card holder.

Below you can find an example of such a fake shipping email. Pay attention to the link. It is not a valid UPS link:

Fake UPS delivery

How to stay safe: The best way to protect yourself from fake delivery notifications and their attempts to steal your login or personal information is to simply not interact with them. If a company is having trouble sending you your items, you should be able to log into your account on that company’s website and find the information you need to resolve. Don’t click on anything in an email about shipping issues. Instead, visit the site directly and log in to see if there is something you need to resolve.

5. Problematic, Fake, or Low-Quality Products

Mistakes happen, but when you’re trying to take advantage of a great Christmas sale, you like to imagine everyone on both sides of the transaction is working in good faith. In some cases, however, there may be misleading practices that entice customers into buying gifts, food, services, or Christmas decorations that are broken or lower quality than advertisements led customers to expect. Issues with promised or expected quality don’t just happen with Christmas shopping online. Problems can pop up in all areas of the holidays. 

For example, in a Safeway Christmas review #2393020, one customer explained how a bad cut of meat caused serious issues for their family. According to that Safeway Christmas complaint, they purchased a prime rib from the grocery store to cook for a holiday meal. When they opened the package to prepare the meat, it became clear that it had gone rancid three days before the expiration date. 

For Christmas eve, the family had to eat leftovers rather than the anticipated meal. Thankfully, the customer did get a refund from the store for the spoiled meat but did feel like their Christmas Day meals were ruined. 

Safeway Christmas review poor quality meal

How to stay safe: Make sure you check out the Pissed Consumer database. There are thousands of reviews from consumers like you that have had a negative experience with a company. You will find information about what its customer service is like, whether a merchant delivers on time, and more. 

The site is easy to search whether you’re looking for information about online Christmas gift ideas or perhaps want to know how trees hold up from a new Christmas tree shop you’re considering.  Another way to protect yourself against holiday scams is to use the BBB Scam Tracker and see if there are any scams reported in or around your area.

6. Delivery Scams

If you’re doing your Christmas shopping online this year, be sure you’re working with reputable vendors. Delivery scams can happen when customers use Christmas shopping online to buy items coming from vendors who aren’t entirely ethical. This might happen when you buy Christmas decorations or gifts from a website, and then the items simply never arrive. Or, you try to take advantage of a Christmas sale, and there are suddenly problems that arise after the company has your money but before you have your products. 

For example, one customer explained the trouble they had in their Country Store Catalog Christmas complaint. In their review #3010223, they stated that they ordered items, and the company took the money for the items out of their bank account. But rather than sending them the items they had paid for, the company claimed: “the bank account did not match my address and that my address was incorrect.” 

The customer has had the “same damn address for 66 years.” Later, when they went to try and log back into the website, all they found were “technical difficulties.” Despite multiple calls to customer service and emails, the customer did not get their item or a refund.

Country Store Catalog review scammers

How to stay safe: Delivery scams happen when companies deliberately don’t ship items or perhaps send the wrong thing. The best way to avoid issues like these is to work with stores and companies you are familiar with and trust. Stores that have been established for years will have safer delivery policies. 

If you want to try a new store for some Christmas gift ideas, do a quick search on the PissedConsumer website to see if others have had issues with delivery. If one person is being scammed, there will almost certainly be others with the same experience. 

How to Stay Safe While Shopping During Christmas 2021

Stay vigilant.

Christmas deals usually look very enticing but, do not drop your guard. Avoid any suspicious and too good to be true offers.

Only shop on secure websites.

Websites that have https at the beginning of the URL are generally secure. If the URL has http without S, it is likely that if you provide your personal information and credit card details, they will be accessible to hackers.

Only use ONE credit card.

Using a prepaid card or a credit card with a low limit will allow you to do your online holiday shopping a tad easier and safer. It will also simplify things as you will only have one account to monitor for unusual activity. Also, it is recommended to avoid using a debit card for your online purchases. This is because, in the event of a scam, the card issuer will have to fight to get its money while if a scam involves your debit card, you will be the one trying to get your money back. 

Do your homework.

There is a handy way to determine how long a website has been in existence and whether it was thrown up a couple of days ago to hit on seasonal shoppers. In the address bar, type “site:” and then the name of the company you want to check. For example, if you wanted to check out Pissed Consumer, you would need to type “site:pissedconsumer.com”. Once you hit enter, you will get all the pages that Google has indexed. If the company is old, you will get 100s or even 1000s of pages indexed. Click on the “search tools” > “Any Time” > “Custom Range” (“Any Time” scroll-down menu). You will be able to search a range of dates. 

Shop early.

Last-minute shopping does not leave you with much choice/options so you will probably end up buying the first thing that pops out. This makes you rush things and not focus on identifying red flags and tell-tale signs of a Christmas fraud. To escape frustration, it is better to start shopping before the big rush.

Check online reviews.

This applies whether you are shopping on a well-known platform or a newer platform. You will easily find the top complaints about the company hence be able to determine if the company is legitimate. It is advisable to check various review websites to get a clear sense of the company’s reliability. Also, search for “company’s name + scam” to see any reported cases of scams about the company.

Verify the offer.

Reach out to a company’s customer service to verify any suspicious offer you may come across. If you are uncertain about a particular deal, contact the company’s customer service to ascertain it.

Install antivirus.

As long as the antivirus software on your computer and phone is up to date, it will catch any malware and viruses before they can infect your device. Some antiviruses will even warn you about suspicious links and websites before opening them.

How to Find Legit Christmas Deals

Below are  tips to help you find legit Christmas offers in 2021:

Follow your favorite stores on social media.

Most businesses have legit sales and promotions during the holidays that are posted exclusively on their social media pages or through their newsletters. Follow their official social media pages and sign up for their newsletters to be in the know about ongoing deals.

Use coupon codes.

Coupon codes can help you save up to 15% on your Christmas shopping. There are numerous shopping apps and websites that offer legit coupon codes. Before you check out an order, check if there are any coupon codes online. If the coupon code has a specific validity date, wait for the right day to complete your transaction.

Leverage on free shipping promos.

Most stores offer free shipping all year round on a given minimum order amount. Get clear about what you would like to buy then check various stores to see if you can find most of the items in one store. This will increase your chances of reaching the minimum required amount to be eligible for free shipping. Another option for saving on shipping costs is to buy online but opt for at-the-store pick-up.

Beat dynamic pricing strategies.

Some retailers use cookies to track your browsing history and location hence increasing your prices. To outsmart this pricing strategy, clear your browsing history, delete cookies, and switch to incognito mode.

Leverage on cashback apps.

Cashback apps such as Rakuten partner with online stores to offer customers a rebate on the total purchase amount. Although the rebate amount per purchase may seem insignificant, over time it adds up.

Alternatively, if you are a frequent shopper at a given store throughout the year, it is a great idea to join their rewards program. You may be eligible for some discounts towards the end of the year.

There will always be individuals looking to take advantage of others using Christmas scams. Fortunately, most holiday scams are easy to spot if you know what you’re looking for as you shop for Christmas gifts. Stay safe this holiday season and enjoy the best of your Christmas celebration.

Rebecca Garland
Business and Education Expert

Rebecca Garland, M.S. is a business and education writer. She holds secondary teaching certifications in six areas, has a degree in Business, and earned a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science. As an expert, Rebecca has been working with international clients since 2005.

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1. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide any legal, medical, accounting, investment or any other professional advice as individual cases may vary and should be discussed with a corresponding expert and/or an attorney.

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