Each week, the non-profit Identity Theft Resource Center works with government agencies, cybersecurity organizations, and other industry experts to provide the public with the most up-to-date information on current threats to personal data and security. One of the partner organizations is Scam Detector, whose weekly top ten list of scams highlights some of the newest or most prevalent scams that affected consumers in the previous week. Here are their top three threats for the week:

#1 – International Puppy Scam

Yes, the title says it all. Puppies are being offered for sale from outside the country, just in time for the holidays.

For now, we’ll overlook the fact that animal rights advocates strongly urge families not to give a live animal as a Christmas present. Too often, these adorable creatures are impulse purchases based on their looks, while factors like their behavior, their breed’s ability to blend in with the family, and their housebreaking skills (or lack thereof) are not well thought out. Many Christmas puppies end up being dumped at animal shelters within the first few months, simply because the family didn’t do their research.

But more importantly, never buy an item—especially a live animal—from an online forum without having a way to verify the legitimacy of the posting. Online scammers are claiming to sell puppies, often using the excuse that they’ve moved out of the country and their puppy isn’t adapting well to the foreign environment; they may even offer to give you the puppy as long as you promise you’ll care for it lovingly, and if you pay the shipping. You’re asked to wire the money to the individual, who will then supposedly ship the dog to you. You might think you’re rescuing a needy animal and giving your family an adorable gift, but instead, you just lost a lot of money to a scammer when no puppy arrives.

In the interest of your wallet and animal rights, only seek out certified and humane sources for your pets, and be sure to meet the animal first to ensure he’s the right fit for your home.

#2 – iTunes Gift Card Scam

This one is particularly crafty. You receive an email that looks like a receipt for an iTunes gift card, meaning you just unknowingly sent an unrecognized email recipient a large gift. Since you didn’t send it, you’re all too quick to click the link that offers to cancel the gift card and refund the money back to your account.

The problem is the link doesn’t cancel a gift card because you didn’t actually buy one. Scammers have led you to believe a hacker has used your account, but while you’re entering all the necessary personal information to cancel the transaction, the scammers are actually gleaning the data you enter.

If you did receive an emailed receipt for an item you don’t remember purchasing, your first step should be to go to the company’s website yourself to check your recent purchases, rather than clicking on an included link. You can also verify the purchase by checking the online banking statement for the card associated with that account.

#3 – Discount Hotel Scam

With so many people traveling for the holidays, travel scams are on the rise. This one involves a scammer approaching you with a bogus discount for a hotel stay once you reach your destination. He’ll claim he was offered a discount on his next stay, but that he won’t be back in town before it expires and therefore can’t use it. He offers you a discount card and raves about the amenities, but that’s the last nice thing you’ll hear about this offer.

If you do switch your reservation in order to take advantage of this “discount rate,” you’ll find that the offer was for a higher price than their usual reservations actually cost. If you keep a watchful eye open, you might also run into your scammer again, passing out another “discount” card to another unsuspecting traveler. Even better, there’s an excellent chance the scammer actually earns a kickback for every reservation he’s able to generate.

If you really want the best possible rates on hotels and travel, do your homework online and start planning months in advance. If you have rewards or loyalty points, those can help you get a good deal as well. But don’t fall for someone who appears out of nowhere to offer you a magical discount.

For the rest of this week’s top scams, visit the Scam Detector website or check out the Current Scams & Alerts tab on the ITRC website.


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