BBB Tip: The naughty list — BBB’s 12 scams of Christmas

With 2023 quickly winding down, Better Business Bureau has compiled our naughty list of the top 12 scams of Christmas. When shopping or donating this holiday season, watch out for schemes trying to swipe your cash or steal your personal information.

You can avoid most scams on this list by taking a few simple precautions. Always exercise caution with social media ads promoting discounted items, holiday events, job opportunities, donation requests, and direct messages from strangers. If someone asks you to make a payment or donation by wire transfer, through a third party, or by prepaid debit or gift card, treat it as a red flag.

Be mindful of these scams that could cut into your holiday cheer

1. Misleading social media ads: It is common to see sponsored advertisements pop up on your social media feed while scrolling, but remember to research the offer before you buy. BBB Scam Tracker receives daily reports of people paying for items they never receive, getting charged monthly for a free trial they never signed up for, or receiving an item that is counterfeit or much different from the one advertised. The 2022 BBB Online Scams Report found that online purchase scams were the most common cons reported to Scam Tracker. Before ordering, check out the business profile on and read the reviews.

2. Social media gift exchanges: This scheme pops back up each holiday season, and this year is no different. The older version was called “Secret Sister.” A newer version of this scam revolves around exchanging bottles of wine; another suggests purchasing $10 gifts online. Another twist asks you to submit your email to a list where participants get to pick a name and send money to strangers to “pay it forward.” There is even a twist about “Secret Santa Dog” where you buy a $10 gift for your “secret dog.”

In all of these versions, participants share their personal information and those of their family members and friends under the premise of buying and shipping gifts or money to unknown individuals. And— it’s an illegal pyramid scheme. Stick to buying your friends gifts from trustworthy businesses, and check before you buy.

3. Holiday apps: Apple’s App Store and Google Play list dozens of holiday-themed apps where children can video chat live with Santa, light the menorah, watch Santa feed live reindeer, track his sleigh on Christmas Eve, or relay their holiday wish lists. Review privacy policies to see what information will be collected. Be wary of free apps, as they sometimes contain more advertising than apps that require a nominal fee. Free apps can also contain malware. Be sure to read reviews as well.

4. Fake texts that say you’ve been hacked: BBB receives tons of reports on Scam Tracker about fake texts and emails, many of them claiming your Amazon, Paypal, Netflix, or bank account has been compromised. Victims are told there has been suspicious activity on one of their accounts, and it further urges them to take immediate action to prevent the account from being compromised. Be extra cautious about unsolicited calls, emails, and texts; contact the business directly and don’t click on any links.

5. Free gift cards: Nothing brings good cheer like the word “FREE.” Scammers have been known to take advantage of this weakness by sending bulk phishing emails requesting personal information to receive free gift cards. In some of these emails, scammers impersonate legitimate companies and promise gift cards to reward loyal customers. They may also use pop-up ads or send text messages with links saying you were randomly selected as the winner of a prize.

If you receive an unsolicited email with gift card offers, do not open it. Instead, mark it as spam or junk. However, if you open the email, do not click on any links.

6. Temporary holiday jobs: Retailers typically hire seasonal workers to help meet the demands of holiday shoppers. Shippers and delivery services are top holiday employers this year because of the increase in online orders and the need to deliver most of these packages before Christmas. These jobs are a great way to make extra money, sometimes with the possibility of turning into a long-term employment opportunity. 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.

7. Look-alike websites: The holidays bring endless emails offering deals, sales, and bargains. Be wary of emails with links enclosed. 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. Go directly to the official website; you can check their listing on to verify you have the right one.

8. Fake charities: The last few weeks of the year are busy for charitable donations. Donors are advised to look out for fraudulent charities and scammers pretending to be individuals in need. Avoid impromptu donation decisions to unfamiliar organizations. Responsible organizations will welcome a gift tomorrow as much as they do today. Verify a charity at BBB’s It is often best to donate to the charity through their website and use a credit card whenever possible.

9. Fake shipping notifications: More consumers are making purchases online, resulting in increased notifications about shipping details from retailers and carriers. Scammers are using this new surge to send phishing emails with links enclosed that may allow unwanted access to your private information or download malware onto your device. They may also try to trick people into paying new shipping fees.

10. Advent calendars: This year, there seem to be more advent calendars for sale than ever; CNN has a list of over 60 calendars, and many are in hot demand. In past years, BBB received reports to Scam Tracker about advent calendar ads on social media failing to deliver as promised. Some consumers did not receive a product; others received inferior products or incomplete orders. Consumers should research before they buy, read reviews and look up the company on before purchasing. BBB also has a shopper’s guide to help you buy that niche advent calendar.

11. Top holiday wishlist items: Low-priced luxury goods, jewelry, designer clothing, and electronics are almost always cheap counterfeits and knockoffs. The same applies to popular toys. This year, Barbie and Ken, Bitzee, and Paw Patrol headphones are some of the items in high demand. Be cautious when purchasing popular toys from resellers on Facebook Marketplace and other platforms.

12. Puppy scams: Many families may consider adding a furry friend to their household this year. However, be on the lookout for scams. Many would-be pet owners turn to the internet to find their future cat or dog, but experts say a shocking 80% of sponsored pet advertisements may be fake. Be sure to see the pet in person before making a purchase.

For general information on how to avoid scams, visit For more advice, read BBB’s tips on online shopping. If you’ve spotted an online scam, report it to BBB Scam Tracker.