After the family dog was killed by a coyote earlier this year, Cole Turner, who lives outside Dallas, was in the market for a new puppy for his 7-year-old son. Turner responded to an ad for a "European Blue Great Dane puppy" on a classified ad website. The supposed breeder was in New York, sent Turner photos of the puppy and agreed to sell it for $600.
But after Turner wire transferred the money, he was left holding the bag. His uncle went to the airport to pick up the dog, but there was no Great Dane on the flight. ABC News investigated, and learned the New York "breeder" was a middleman -- an intermediary -- who received the wired money and forwarded the funds to a suspected scam artist in Nigeria.
Turner was one of many taken in by this scam. As the holidays approach, the Better Business Bureau created a list of the top five scams to be on the lookout for, along with some advice on how to avoid them.
"This is where we see the scams and con artists will take advantage of the giving spirit," said Carrie Hurt, the president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau.
What better holiday gift for your family than a new puppy under the tree? The Internet is loaded with pictures of adorable puppies from "breeders" who are more than happy to arrange to ship your new best friend just in time for Christmas. You wire them the money for the puppy and the airfare, they send you the flight information and you wait at the airport. But there's no puppy, no one returns your calls and your money is gone.
Your grandson calls from Mexico to say he's been arrested while traveling and needs bail money wired to him. Or you get an email from your best friend saying she was mugged traveling in Europe and needs money to pay her hotel bill. Or you meet someone online and develop a long-distance romance, then he asks you for money or asks you to pick up a wire transfer for him. All these relationship scams have two things in common: The scam artist gets close to you by pretending to be someone he or she's not, and they ask you to wire money, which is nearly impossible to recover. Go to bbb.org/scam for more information on detecting scams like these.
Whether from a city street vendor, a deceptive website or the trunk of an acquaintance's car, it's pretty easy to pass off counterfeit goods, especially to those who can't resist a supposedly great deal. But seriously, no one is going to give away a designer purse for $25 or an iPad for $50. Counterfeit goods are usually shoddy and poorly made. In the case of electronics, they may not work for long, or at all. And not only are you getting ripped off, you are stealing the intellectual property of the person or company that designed the real thing. Not to mention how tacky you'll look when you give a cheap knockoff as a Christmas present.
|Gift Card Scam|
If you get an email, text message or social media post saying you've won a gift card to Target, Walmart, Best Buy or another popular retailer, just hit the delete button. Those contests are nothing more than scams to get you to reveal personal information -- information that can be used to steal your identity and drain your bank account. Never share identifying information with someone who contacts you first, and sign up for BBB Scam Alerts to find out about the latest scams every week.
Charities are busy in December; that's when they raise a huge percentage of their funds from those who celebrate the season by sharing with those less fortunate and from those looking for one last tax deduction before the end of the year. Be on the lookout for phony charities that sound and look like the real thing. Websites are easy to fake and might even include real photos and heartwarming stories. Don't reply directly to a solicitation you receive via email or social media; it could be a scam to get your bank or credit card information. Go to give.org to check out the charity first.
"It's so important for consumers to do their homework on the front end," Hurt said. "Make sure you're doing business with a legitimate company. Make sure that the individual you're dealing with is reputable."
For more on charity scams and stopping fraud, visit Western Union's Consumer Protection Knowledge Center and Stop Fraud page.