Thinking about scams during the holiday season is difficult. It is the time to focus on the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who taught us to love, serve, and care for one another in both word and deed. We should be focused on caring for the sick, meeting the needs of those who lack basic resources, showing our partners, families, and friends how much we love them, and reminding the world that despite all worldly evidence to the contrary, Hope did indeed arrive.
Sadly, in today’s world, loving and serving others often includes protecting each other from scams. Here are just a few of the more common scams making the rounds as we look toward the 2022 Thanksgiving and Christmas season.
Missed deliveries texts
We all tend to buy a bit more during this time of year. Even those of us who are careful to avoid the excessive consumerism and flat out greed that can taint the holiday season are probably going to buy a few Christmas presents. And with all the sales and specials, the holiday season is a completely reasonable time to add a little treat for ourselves in there too.
With so many more packages showing up at the door than normal, it is entirely possible to miss a delivery. Drivers have a lot more work to do, they get tired, and your package winds up in some weird spot around the back of your building where you never go, or slides under your porch. Or maybe they were supposed to get your signature, and you were not home, so they had to take the package back until you contacted them.
But whether you are looking around for your lost order, or a delivery driver has an order they need to pass on to you, the communication will never be initiated or carried out through a vague text. If your package does not show up, you of course call or email the company you ordered the items from. They will always respond to you by calling back the number you gave them, replying to the email you sent, or contacting you via the information you provided in their online form. Details of your original message will be included in all correspondence or communication. A delivery you still need to sign for will still be communicated to you the old-fashioned way, with a notice in place of the package.
Vague text messages from Amazon or any other company you may buy from referencing a “delivery” are scams. Clicking on them may open your device up to malware that allows the scammer access to information on your computer. They may also be waiting to ask you to pay a “delivery fee” to get the package. The best defense against this scam is to instantly delete all such text messages. If you are legitimately missing a package, contact the company you purchased the item from directly.
Gift exchanges with strangers online
On the surface, this sounds like a wonderful way to serve others, make new friends, and collect some fun items for yourself, to give as gifts, or to resell as a little holiday side hustle. You are offered a spot in a “Secret Santa,” “Secret Sister” or even “Secret Dog” exchange. Participation is easy. All you have to do is add your name, mailing address, and other contact information to a list. Then, just buy a small, reasonable gift for the person you are assigned to buy for. It may be a bottle of wine, a dog toy, a Christmas tree ornament, or a small gift card. Finally, sit back and wait. Several people will have gotten your name, and you will receive a collection of wine, dog toys, ornaments, or small gift cards from new friends around the country or even the world.
Except this does not happen. These “Secret” Santa/Sister/Dog/Whatever online gift exchanges are nothing more than the tech savvy version of the classic illegal pyramid scheme. The vast majority of the people who participate get nothing, and meet nobody.
Rather than falling prey to these schemes, host a gift exchange for a group of family and friends that you already know. If you would like to anonymously bless a stranger, participate in one of the many “Angel tree” programs in your community. You can choose to buy Christmas gifts for a family, child, or lonely individual who lives in a nursing home by selecting a tag from a tree sponsored by a local business. These trees are run by legitimate charities, and you can trust that your gift will truly be used to bless someone.
Pet adoption scams
Giving a pet as a Christmas gift should be done with extreme caution, even in the best situations.. Before you even offer to get somebody a pet, you need to make sure that person has a safe environment for the pet to live in, and is prepared to pay for food, vet bills, and supplies the pet will need. Your friend might be a wonderful person who loves cats, but if his house is cluttered with items that might fall on a small animal and cause injury, he does not need a kitten. Or they might love German Shepherds and wish they could have a puppy, but live in a tiny apartment and work day and night, meaning the dog would be left alone in a cramped space most of the time. Perhaps your friend is already an amazing pet parent, but simply cannot afford another pet.
Even if you are one hundred percent certain the recipient and the pet would be blessings to each other, or if this holiday season is the right time to add a new pet to your own family, there is still the risk of the pet adoption scam. Scammers love this one because it’s too easy. All they have to do is steal a few cute pictures and/or videos of a pet, pretend it’s an animal they are looking to rehome, and wait for somebody to offer them the “fee” for the pet that they do not even own.
Never give anyone money for any pet until the animal is physically with you and/or its new owner. And Zoom does not count as being “together” in this situation. A scammer could easily use his or her own pet in the scam, promising that the dog or cat they are holding up to the camera is your new pet, while having no intention of giving it to you.
Scams may be unpleasant to think about during the holidays. But they are even more hurtful to experience at this time of year. Look out for each other.