LOS ANGELES, CA — ‘Tis the Season to be cautious, fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!

Having survived or skipped the Black Friday crowds, many holiday shoppers are waiting for Cyber-Monday deals, but the Better Business Bureau is warning shoppers to watch out for the steals. It’s the time of year when scammers come out of the woodwork to take advantage of the giving spirit. From look-alike websites to fake social media gift exchanges to free holiday apps loaded with malware, scammers are as busy as Santa’s little elves this time of year.

Every year, law enforcement across California fields reports of holiday scams. But since the pandemic hit, such scams have skyrocketed. Online shoppers were defrauded out of about $246 million last year, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

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“If a company is selling the hottest item of the year at a price that seems too good to be true, it probably is,” the Better Bussiness Bureau warned. “Watch out for false advertising and keep a close eye on the web address in your browser.”

Online shoppers should triple check the spelling when searching their browsers for their favorite store because scammers will create elaborate and realistic websites to take advantage of unwitting shoppers waylayed by a typo. Always check to make sure a website is secure, beginning with HTTPS:// before entering your personal or credit card information. The bureau also recommends using credit cards for online shopping over debit cards because credit cards offer an extra layer of fraud protection.

Find out what’s happening in Los Angeles with free, real-time updates from Patch.

This year, the Better Business Bureau released their naughty list of the “12 Scams of Christmas.”

1. Misleading Social Media Ads: These ads sneak into your social media feeds posing as small businesses or charities in need of your support. Only their customers never get the items they ordered, or they get counterfeit goods and recurring charges they never agreed to. “Do your homework and research the company before ordering. Check out the business profile on BBB.org and read the reviews,” the bureau warns.

Read more about misleading ads. free trial offers, and counterfeit goods.

2. Social Media Gift Exchanges: This one is a perennial holiday favorite. One version encourages people to join the gift exchange with a bottle of wine or small item purchases, telling participants to “pay it forward” in order to take part, but it’s really an online pyramid scheme. Participants may be asked to join an email ist or donate a small gift to what seems like a worthy cause. In the end, the scammers steal victims’ personal information, credit card information and even contact information for friends and family to prey upon them, too.

Read more about the social media gift exhange.

3. Holiday Apps: There are countless holiday-themed apps, many of which are free to use. They may allow children to chat with Santa or track reindeer. The problem is the naughty ones, however, that require personal information or contain malware.

Read more about holiday apps.

4 Alerts About Compromised Accounts: Scammers claiming to be major retailers or banks warning their customers that their accounts have been hacked are ubiquitous this time of year as people shop online. Scammers text or email their victims about “suspicious activity on their accounts.” It’s an alarming message, to be sure, but if a company is alerting you to a problem with your account, they won’t need you to enter your personal or account information to verify the suspicious activity.

Read more about compromised accounts scams.

5. Free Gift Cards: These tend to be bulk phishing emails tempting their victims with offers of free gift cards. They also come up as pop-up ads.

“If you have received an unsolicited email with gift card offers, do not open it. Instead, mark it as Spam or Junk. However, if you opened the email, do not click on any links,” the Better Business Bureau warns.

Read more about gift card scams.

6. Temporary Holiday Jobs: Retailers and delivery services hire seasonal workers this time of year. “However, job seekers need to be wary of employment scams aimed at stealing money and personal information from job applicants. Keep an eye out for opportunities that seem too good to be true,” warns the bureau.

Read more about holiday job scams.

7. Look-Alike Websites: In this tricky scam, criminals set up fraudulent websites mirroring retailers, and they send out emails and texts with offers luring people to shop with them. “Some may lead to look-alike websites created by scammers to trick people into downloading malware, making dead-end purchases and sharing private information. If you are uncertain about the email, do not click any of the links. Instead, hover over them to see where they reroute,” the bureau advises.

Read more on look-alike websites.

8. Fake Charities: This time of year is when most people do their charitable giving. “Donors are advised to look out for fraudulent charities and scammers pretending to be individuals in need… Verify a charity at BBB’s give.org or on the Canada Revenue Agency website. Where possible, donate to the charity through their website and use a credit card,” warns the bureau.

Read more about fake charities.

9. Fake Shipping Notifications: In this scam, fraudsters send phishing emails with links to track “your purchase,” but first you have to enter your personal information or download malware.

Read more about delivery and package scams.

10. Pop Up Holiday Virtual Events: Scammers create fake event pages, social media posts, and emails, to charge admission for holiday fairs and similar events that are typically free. Then they steal their victims’ credit card information. “Confirm with the organizer of the event if there is an admission fee. In the cases where there is a charge, use a credit card. If the event is free, watch for scammers trying to claim otherwise,” advises the bureau.

Read more about pop up holiday shops.

11. Top Holiday Wishlist Items: If it seems too good to be true, that’s because it is. Scammers offer low prices on hot-ticket items that may be hard to get. However, the items tend to be counterfeits and knockoffs. “This year, the Galactic Snackin’ Grogu Animatronic (aka Baby Yoda) and game consoles are some of the items in high demand. Be very cautious when considering to purchase these high-value items from individuals through social sites,” the bureau warns.

Read more about holiday hot toy scams.

12. Puppy Scams: In this heartbreaking scam, fraudsters prey upon families looking to give a pet for a holiday gift. Often, the online puppy seller will lure people in with photos of adorable puppies. People should request to see the pet in person before making putting a penny down.

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