Christmas Scams Now Available on Craigslist

Craigslist officeTrying to raise holiday funds by selling used electronics on Craigslist? You might be opening yourself to scam artists who want to Grinch your Christmas.

"While the rest of us are pulling the decorations out of the attic, scammers are blowing the dust off of their tried and true holiday scams," Better Business Bureau spokeswoman Paula Fleming said in a statement. "We can all help make these holiday scams a ghost of Christmas' past by not falling for them anymore."

Last year, people lost $550 million in online fraud cases -- twice that of the year before. In Ohio alone, hundreds of complaints were filed with the attorney general's office.

So this year, the state partnered with Craigslist, where the "for sale" ads read like a cheapskate's wish list, but don't always come true. And even honest people trying to sell their items are bait for scammers when faux buyers send fake checks for more than the item's value and ask for the remainder to be wired back.

According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, losses by victims of online fraud nearly doubled from 2008 to 2009, surpassing $550 million. Hundreds of complaints were filed with the Ohio Attorney General's office last year alone.

Attorney General Richard Cordray says in a statement that there's a pattern of complaints in which scammers approach people offering goods for sale online. In October, the website agreed to post a link directly to the attorney general's office that would allow people who feel they've been scammed to file a complaint. Since then, there have been more than 300 complaints filed.

"It is our goal to set the standard for effective partnership with law enforcement," said William C. Powell, Craigslist's director of customer service and law enforcement relations.

Here are some tips for keeping your money safe during the holidays, both online and off.

  • Watch out for sound-alike websites or emails promising great deals from sites you're not familiar with. You can check out what fellow consumers have to say about sites by using the search tool on the Consumer Ally front page.
  • Think twice before using random ATM machines. In a ploy called skimming, scam artists steal consumers' debit card information by placing special equipment over card readers in ATM machines and gas station pumps. Free-standing ATMs, especially those located in dark or unmonitored areas, may be especially at risk. To protect yourself, use ATMs located within your bank or another public, secure area. When pumping gas, consider using another form of payment (such as cash or a credit card) instead of your debit card.
  • Buying online? Some free trial offers are actually part of a billing practice known as negative option. If you fail to cancel the offer within a specific and often narrow time frame, you may be billed automatically.
  • Pay with credit over debit. When you pay by credit card, your transaction is protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. Under this law, you have the right to dispute unauthorized charges on your credit card and you are held liable only for $50 of unauthorized charges.
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