Sense & Centsibility Blog
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Watch for these holiday scams [and learn tips to protect yourself]

‘Tis the season for giving! Like many Americans, you might be busy with your holiday shopping and making sure you get the perfect gifts for family members, friends and co-workers. But others are busy this time of year, too, and they’re not Santa Claus and his elves. They are scammers, and they’re hoping they can trick you into giving to them. 

Make sure you do your research and know whether you are dealing with a legitimate business, individual, buyer or organization. Watch out for the following scams.

Charitable giving scams

According to the AARP, one-third of all charitable giving is done in December. To make sure your money goes where it does the most good — and not line the pockets of a fraudster — here are tips from the Federal Trade Commission

  • Search for the cause you care about to find a charity to support.
  • Once you have the charity’s name, search its name, along with the words “complaint,” “review,” “rating” or “scam.”
  • If a business, company or organization asks you to pay with cryptocurrency, a wire transfer or through gift cards, don’t do it. That’s how scammers ask for payment. Only use credit card or check payments. 
  • Use these websites to help you research charities: 

Check on an organization’s tax status at the IRS’s website to see if your donation to that organization is tax deductible. Most states require that charities or fundraisers register to ask for donations. You can find your state’s regulator at the National Association of State Charity Officials website. In Minnesota, this regulator is the Office of the Attorney General

Purchase or delivery scams

A “seller” contacts you unsolicited via text, email or by phone with a situation that has to be fixed now: e.g., your credit card payment was declined or there’s a problem with a delivery. They might ask for a payment to fix the problem. The message might appear to be coming from a trusted company, but it might be scammers looking to steal your credit card or other personal information. Don’t click on links in texts or emails. Instead, go directly to the shipping confirmation email you received or to the seller’s website to see if there is an actual issue. 

Purchase scams might appear through a trusted website, an online marketplace, or an ad on social media. The fraudster might be advertising popular gift items for ridiculously low prices, especially items that are hard to find and might be out of stock everywhere else.

The best way to protect yourself from these types of scams is to use a protected form of payment. Credit or debit card purchases are protected by federal laws; those you make with cash, cryptocurrencies, gift cards or peer-to-peer payment apps are not. If a seller only allows you to make your purchase with gift cards, cryptocurrency, PayPal or Venmo, it’s best to pass that deal up. The same applies if you are the one doing the selling. Only accept payment via traditional forms of payment. If you must use a peer-to-peer app, make sure you can verify receipt of the payment before you ship your items. 

If you are making an online purchase, check out the company first. Search for its name, plus “scam” or “complaint.” Read more about safely shopping online.

Investment scams

We’ve all heard the saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it is.” That especially applies to investment and other opportunity-type scams. If someone approaches you with an offer where you can make “lots of money, guaranteed” with “little to no risk,” your first impulse may be, “Sign me up!” Shake off that impulse, and take time to do your research. Learn more about investment scams, or research an investment on your own at these websites:

Scammers might ask you pay for the investment through a wire transfer, cryptocurrency or gift cards. Don’t do it! You might be out hundreds or thousands of dollars if you do. 

Social media scams

A “friend” reaches out to you on social media trying to sell you something, tell you about the latest investment that is making them rich, or get you to click on a link (which might download some malware). Scammers know we are more likely to click on something sent from a friend, so they will impersonate our friends via social media, text, phone or email. Social media scams are a problem for people of all ages but are increasingly targeting young people. The Federal Trade Commission found that in the first six months of 2023, people ages 20-29 who lost money to fraud reported that social media was the contact method more than 38% of the time; for people ages 18-19, that figure was 47%.

To stay clear of scams on social media: 

  • Limit who can see your posts and information on your accounts. Review your privacy settings to set restrictions on who can see your activities.
  • If you get an odd message from a friend about an emergency or a great investment opportunity, call them. Don’t trust the opportunity until you hear their voice and can verify it was sent from them. If it is from them, then do your own research.  
  • Be cautious about accepting friend or follow requests from those you don’t know. If someone approaches you and rushes to start a friendship or romance — slow down! Never send money to someone you haven’t met in person.
  • If you get a duplicate friend request from someone you are already connected to, reach out to them via email or text to see if they started a new account. Someone might be using their likeness to prey on their contacts. 

Support after a scammer contacts you

Report any contacts from scammers at In Minnesota, you can go directly to Attorney General’s file a complaint form. Even if you did not pay a scammer, reporting the attempt might help someone else avoid it. And that’s a great holiday gift! 

We have certified, trusted and nonjudgmental financial counselors who provide advice and support if a scammer has taken advantage of you and harmed you financially. Call 888.577.2227 to schedule a free, confidential appointment, email us or complete our short contact form

I hope these tips will help you avoid scammers — the real Grinches of this holiday season.


Shannon Doyle is program manager for partnerships & financial education with LSS Financial Counseling.