As artists, we probably know what it’s like to struggle financially. This can be especially true around the holidays, leading many of us to want to give to others who may also be struggling this year. Generosity is always something to cultivate in yourself. Never become so cynical or hardened that you simply refuse to give. Just take a moment to make sure you’re giving to someone or something that is truly going to help others.
Holiday season scams are nothing new. The ones you remember from past years are sure to be back. But here are the ones that seem especially active as the Christmas season officially begins.
Secret Santa/Secret Sisters
Secret Sisters, sometimes billed as “Secret Santa Sisters” or a similar name, is a new twist on the same old gift exchange pyramid scheme. The message or post invites you to combat the loneliness brought on by the fight against Covid-19 by adding your name to a gift exchange list. You buy a small, thoughtful gift for the person whose name you get, and everyone who gets your name will send you something in turn. But only the people who started it actually receive the gifts. These items can then be sold by the people running the pyramid scheme for a profit.
Those who truly want to bless a stranger this holiday season should instead contact local non-profit organizations, or speak to someone at their place of worship about participating in an “angel tree” or similar program. These types of programs allow those in need to sign up to receive gifts for themselves, their elderly relatives, or their children this Christmas. Those who would like to give gifts can receive information such as gender, age, clothing sizes, wish lists, and favorite colors, and purchase an appropriate gift for the recipient.
Help Me Help Others
The scam starts out as a social media challenge. The scammer claims they are raising funds to bless others. One post seen around social media asked people to send money to a personal Cashapp account so that the account owner could give servers and bartenders hundreds of dollars in tips. Another asked friends and family to send them money to buy products from a multilevel marketing company they sold for, with the promise that they would use the cash to order children’s products from their company and distribute them at a hospital. Of course, there is no guarantee the recipient of your funds will use them in the way they claim, and if they’re soliciting cash donations from strangers, it is likely they will not. The honest way to do this would be to get an online group together, set a goal, and challenge everyone to give enough directly to the people they are blessing to meet that goal. There is absolutely no reason why you should have to filter your cash donation through an individual.
Anyone who wants to give servers especially large tips can give the extra cash directly to the server or delivery person of their choice. People who feel called to make a cash donation to help kids in a hospital can just as easily contact an area hospital and arrange to make a donation as give it to a random person and hope that person isn’t planning to pocket the money.
Social Media Coupons and Deals
Getting your holiday shopping going while browsing your social media may be tempting. It is especially enticing when the ad that just popped up offers you such an amazing deal on a product at a famous retailer. Never click on these, no matter how much a loved one would like the item pictured, how good the deal, or how busy you are right now. These ads are almost always scams, with links that take you to sites designed to be mistaken for the web page of a well-known, legitimate retail establishment. Amazon and Target are just two pages scammers have basically cloned.
Online holiday shopping should always begin and end directly on the known, trusted site of your favorite store. Any coupons or deals they offer will be on their site. If you see a deal on another site, contact the store’s customer service department from the known and trusted site and ask them if the offer is genuine.
Pet adoption scams surged during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, as scammers realized an increase in isolation and loneliness would lead to an increase in the demand for pets. As we face a holiday season destined to feature a lot more time alone or with a very small group than we had anticipated or hoped for, pet adoption scammers are back at it, targeting lonely people, animal lovers, and parents and grandparents hoping to brighten Christmas for the chidlren in their family. Adorable puppies or kittens are for sale from what looks like the Facebook or Instagram page of a reputable breeder. Or someone’s pet has unexpectedly given birth, and the babies are available for a “rehoming fee.” Sometimes, the pet is presented as a rescue in need of a home.
The safest way to adopt a pet is through your local animal rescue organization. If you feel called to adopt a pet from an individual, never part with any cash until your new pet is with you, offline and in person. Stealing other peoples’ pet photos, including photos of new litters, is as easy as stealing any other type of photo online. And never settle for a meeting via Zoom or other in person but online environment. The person could still claim your pet ran away or passed away between the day you sent them your money and the day you were scheduled to receive the pet.
MLM Sales Pitches Disguised as Need
This one pops up in groups intended to get and receive help. Someone will create a post inviting members to announce something they need, in the hope that another member will be able to help them out. Most of the responses will address legitimate needs. Of course, some people may talk about things many of us would consider a “want,” but everyone is doing what they are invited to do, mention something they would purchase if they only had the funds. Some post about needing a job.
Then there are posts with pleas such as “To do well with my business so I can have a better life.” Responses to questions about the business always consist of “PM’d you” or “sent you a message” instead of an answer in public online space. Responding to these messages will get you nothing more than a sales pitch from someone who has signed up to sell for an MLM, or multilevel marketing company. The person may even try to convince you to pay to sign up to sell the products under them.
Always pay close attention to who you are communicating with online, and never agree to or sign anything simply because someone seems desperate for you to do so. It is up to each of us who we wish to help out, but make sure you are helping someone you genuinely wish to help, and are not being manipulated or pressured into something you do not support.
Never let the presence of these scams discourage you from blessing others. Just take an extra minute to step back and make sure things are as they seem.