Maids a-milking? More like scammers a-bilking: Beware the 12 scams of Christmas

"On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me … a mystery shopper job scam?" The Better Business Bureau counts down the days with its annual list of the top holiday scams.

Better Business Bureau warns consumers to be careful over the holidays

Check the source before handing over money and personal information online. (iStock)

There may be maids a milking somewhere in Alberta, but the Better Business Bureau is more concerned about bilking. 

Yes, the BBB is counting down the days to Christmas with its annual list of the top holiday scams.

Have you been woken up by a text offering you work as a mystery shopper? Yeah, not legit. And the top scam on this year's list. 

"This is a particularly high time for employment scams," said Leah Brownridge with the BBB, explaining why the Mystery Shopper Scam is number one this year.

It starts with a text or email promising easy work, followed by a cheque in the mail and instructions to cash it and wire some of that money abroad. That cheque bounces and your money is lost. 

Equally appealing to those who want more for less are social media exchanges, which clock in at number two this year. 

If you've seen something like this: "I just entered a wine exchange. I contribute one bottle and get a whole bunch in return. Want to join me!?" Your answer should be no. 

"In reality it's a pyramid scheme and that's illegal," said Brownridge. 

Someone's going to be left holding an empty space where booze (or something else) once was, even if your friend is bathing in baco noir. 

Of course it's not all about appealing to our lazy instincts for easy money and free booze (or other things). Those trying to pry money and goods from people often prey on the emotional toll of the holidays as well. 

Here's a list of the other 10 scams to watch out for this year:

  • 3 - Puppy scams: Best not to buy pets online, lest you end up with a hairless cat that grows hair, or a puppy mill dog with emotional problems. Definitely don't send money until you actually have a pet. 
  • 4 - Romance scams: That special online someone moving a bit fast and asking for cash? Maybe move on to the next fish. 
  • 5 - Travel scams: Getting from point A to point B for the holidays can be expensive, but be wary of deals that are too good to be true. Check your source, and for the love! Don't wire money if you're not sure. 
  • 6 - Online ads for hot toys and gadgets: Didn't manage to get your kid a Hatchimal? If you see one for sale online, be careful. A reliable payment site will start with https, rather than just http. Also be wary of sites that don't have contact info or ask you to pay by money transfer or cash card. 
  • 7- Fake charities: Is that charity you want to give money to legit? Research is the key on this one, as anyone can make up a fake charity and go hunting for donations. Look for a charity registration number and check it against the organization. 
  • 8 - Santa scammers: Nooooo, not Santa too! Your kids got a letter for the jolly old elf asking for information? Be careful what you, or your child, reveals. It could be Krampus. 
  • 9 - Stolen gift cards: Don't buy gift cards online or, you know, from the back of a van. Best to get them directly from a retailer so there's actually money on them. 
  • 10 - Pickpockets: Not really a scam, but it can still hurt. When hitting busy malls, watch your purse and your wallet.
  • 11 - Stranded grandkids: If your loved ones call or email and say they were robbed or hurt overseas, best to double check before sending a wire transfer.
  • 12 - Malware e-cards: Falalalalalala, hacked. If you don't know the person who sent you a thoughtful pixelated greeting, don't open that attachment or click that link. It's much easier to pretend you got that card from second-uncle-once-removed-what's-his-name than to assume he sent you one. 

Sgt. Andrew Macleod with the new Calgary Police Service cyber investigative team said the criminals are both local and international and are aware many Albertans are struggling during the downturn.

"The scammers and the fraudsters are out there and aware and they do want to take advantage," he said. "They just have no sense or heart towards the situation."

The BBB hopes its warnings keep Albertans alert, but doesn't scare them away from giving to needy organizations this year.