Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Similkameen Spotlight week of Dec. 13, 2004)

The Twelve Scams of Christmas

  By John Martin

As has been previously discussed in this and other columns, Christmas provides unique and profitable opportunities for thieves, burglars and other criminals.  But the season also brings out the ugly side of many, otherwise legitimate, individuals, merchants and businesses.  Some citizens, proprietors and small businesses canít resist taking advantage of people and their spending habits this time of year.  For many, itís the one opportunity to make up for eleven months of poor or mediocre sales, and cash in during the Christmas spending extravaganza.  For others, itís merely a matter of temptation.

And so, in no particular order, here are The Twelve Scams of Christmas to watch out for.

Fake designer clothes and items for sale.  Many small retail outlets will stock their shelves with bogus designer merchandise to move during the season.  To the untrained eye, knock off designer clothing and accessories look like the real thing.

Temporary merchants who rent space for two weeks or set up shop in a parking lot are notorious for passing off counterfeit leather goods as high-end, name brand items.

Pirated CDs and DVDs seem to spring up everywhere this time of year as well.  Retail outlets that normally donít sell movies or music often canít resist getting in on this racket, even if itís just for a week or so.

Internet home shopping services also deserve to be viewed with caution.  Many scammers have become spammers and attempt to entice shoppers with Internet bargains on merchandise that will never be delivered.  By the time the shopper realizes somethingís not right, the website will have been discontinued.

Itís not just small time operators who pull Christmas stunts.  The airlines are notorious for offering Christmas travel bargains and then deliberately over-booking the flight.  Once at the airport, the client discovers he has no seat on the plane.  Naturally the airline has a solution to save his holiday.  He can simply rebook a much more expensive flight that departs shortly.  Cute.

Hotels also pull a similar ruse.  They overbook their offering of discounted room rates and count on travellers to arrive after check-in time due to traffic congestion, etc.  Frustrated, tired and having few options, they end up paying for a higher priced room.

Hotels, bars and restaurants hosting Christmas parties have also been known to get in on the action.  Open bar tabs often tally up significantly higher than what would be reasonably expected and rather than get into a ďwho had what?Ē issue with the staff Ė whoever is looking after the bill simply pays up.

And of course, we have to deal with all the people collecting for bogus charities.  Few legitimate charities still solicit door to door.  And those that do, have impeccable credentials and identification on their person.  Itís wise to assume that anyone knocking on the door looking for a donation is a huckster.  There are lots of ways to donate without opening up your wallet to someone standing in your doorway.

Similarly, other cretins will solicit for donations over the phone.  Many of these operators work out of boiler rooms and cannot be traced once theyíve been given your credit card number. 

Another Christmas charity scam involves shady operators, usually at convenience stores, putting a donation tin on their counter.  If they donít offer this year round, it should be viewed suspiciously.  Many will simply pocket the coins at the end of each day.

And of course, thereís always a mysterious spike in the number of homeless panhandlers during the rush.  Young, healthy men and women will dress down, look their most decrepit and play to your ďpeace on Earth and goodwill to menĒ emotions.  Save your spare change for the next bell ringer with the Salvation Army.  Thatís really the only way to know your charity goes where you actually want it.

And of course, what would a list of scams be without at least one reference to the Government of Canada?  Like summer holidays, the Christmas season is a time when people and the media donít pay a lot of attention to what goes on in Ottawa.  For the government, this is the perfect time to break campaign promises and pick our pockets with little or no public outcry. 

Be merry.  But, be wary.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at

Prime Time Crime current headlines

Contributing Writers