Top Five Holiday Scams to Watch Out For

Ryan McVay/Thoinkstock(NEW YORK) -- As the holidays approach, many scam artists will be ramping up efforts to tap into your wallet.  

To better prepare consumers, the Better Business Bureau has 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.

1. Puppy Scams

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.

2. Relationship Scams

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.

3. Counterfeit Goods

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.  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.

4. 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.

5. Charity Scams

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."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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