’Tis the season for holiday scams as bad actors ramp up their efforts to take advantage of gift givers, bargain hunters, and stressed-out shoppers.
With millions of people frantically looking for the perfect gift—preferably at a hefty discount—cybercriminals know that goodwill and distraction are at a seasonal high. This combination makes it easier to trick consumers into falling for scams.
To help stop a scammer from taking the jolly out of your holiday season, it’s important to be aware of common holiday scams, understand how to avoid becoming a victim, and know what to do if you do fall for a scam.
Common Holiday Scams
Understandably, most holiday scams are centered around shopping. Although most of these occur online and via email, scammers also try to take advantage of the holiday spirit in person.
Here are four common ways scammers use the holidays to attempt to get access to your bank accounts, credit cards, personal data, and presents!
1. Package Delivery Scams
These email-based scams appear to come from one of the major package delivery services. The email normally contains a link to a form asking you to log in, verify your information, or provide other sensitive personal data that can be used to steal your identity.
Unfortunately, even if you don’t share sensitive information, just clicking on a bad link may infect your device with malware that can be used to steal passwords or credit card and bank account numbers.
You also need to keep an eye out for in-person delivery scams. For example, you may find a missed delivery notice on your door with a number to call to arrange delivery. The person at the other end of the line will ask a series of personal questions that can be used to commit identity fraud.
Then there is good, old-fashioned package theft—no technology required. It’s a busy season for deliveries, and a big pile of presents on your front porch may prove irresistible to thieves.
If you aren’t going to be home when your packages arrive, consider asking a relative or neighbor to accept delivery or take advantage of Amazon’s locker option if it’s available in your area.
2. Social Media Scams
Social media is a popular medium for scams. It’s easy for criminals to set up accounts and offer huge discounts on hard-to-find gifts or too-good-to-be-true incentives for taking a survey or sharing a post. Just clicking these offers could infect your device with malware or lead to a phishing attempt.
3. Gift Card Scams
Gift card scams are rampant during the holidays, so be extra cautious about where you buy them and who you buy them for. Buying gift cards through unsolicited emails or unfamiliar websites leaves you open to fraud and theft. Likewise, an unexpected email from a friend or coworker asking you to purchase gift cards on their behalf should raise a red flag.
To minimize the chance of being scammed, purchase gift cards directly from the business, or if you do buy one off the rack, be sure to get a receipt and register the gift card if you are able.
4. Charity Scams
The holidays bring out the best in most people, and many want to spread cheer by donating money to a favorite cause. Scammers take advantage of this goodwill by soliciting donations to a fraudulent charity. These requests often come via email or telemarketer, but a little due diligence can help prevent you from being scammed.
Be wary of charities that ask for donations through wire transfer or gift card. Reputable organizations don’t operate this way.
Avoid charity scams by only donating to organizations you trust and are familiar with. Scammers often spoof emails to look like they are from a reputable sender, so reach out to the organization directly to make a contribution instead of clicking on an email link.
Watch Out for These Red Flags
With many retailers pushing hard for sales during the holidays, our inboxes and social media feeds are overflowing with deals and discounts. Unfortunately, it’s often hard to distinguish a real promotion from a scam. However, there are a few common “tells” you can watch for that may indicate an offer isn’t legitimate.
It Sounds Too Good to Be True
If you see a highly sought-after gift advertised at an extreme discount on a social media site or unfamiliar webpage, don’t click. Instead, visit the retailer’s website to confirm the price.
Lack of Quality Control
Spelling errors or poor grammar on a website or in an email—especially if it’s coming from a well-known brand—are major red flags that something is amiss. Image is everything to large companies, and poorly written marketing materials aren’t a good look.
No Contact Information
When a website doesn’t list a business phone number, street address, or other verifiable contact information, you have good reason to be suspicious. If you have no way to reach the company, you are safer doing business elsewhere.
Random Request for Personal Information
Unsolicited emails that ask you to click on a link and provide personal information, such as credit card numbers, login credentials, or your Social Security number, are the classic hallmark of a phishing scam. When in doubt, don’t click.
How to Avoid Holiday Scams
Holiday scams are inevitable, but being a victim isn’t. There are several ways shoppers can protect themselves against holiday fraud, identity theft, and malware.
Don’t Pay Cash
Paying by credit card or fraud-protected debit card gives you recourse in the event of a holiday shopping scam or purchase dispute. Be sure to save all of your receipts not only for returns but also to provide proof of purchase.
Purchase over a Secure Network
Public Wi-Fi networks are notoriously vulnerable to cyberthreats. It is fairly easy for a scammer to intercept your personal data, including credit card numbers and login credentials, on an unencrypted public Wi-Fi connection. If you must make a purchase outside of your secure home network, it’s safer to use your cellular network instead of public Wi-Fi.
Know What You’re Clicking
Emails are one of the most common ways cybercriminals find their victims. You can protect yourself by always confirming the legitimacy of an email before clicking a link or opening an attachment, especially if you don’t know the sender or the email content seems suspicious.
Verify, Verify, Verify
If you receive an unexpected notification about a package delivery, think before you act to avoid a shipping scam. First, verify that you are expecting a delivery then go to the shipping provider or merchant’s website and reach out directly to customer service to resolve the issue or provide needed information.
What to Do if You Fall for a Scam
The holidays can be stressful, and it’s easy to get distracted and let down your guard. In fact, scammers are counting on it.
Despite your best efforts and due diligence, it is possible that you will be the victim of a holiday scam. But don’t panic!
If you notice unusual activity on your accounts or realize your mobile device or computer has been compromised, you can minimize the damage by taking the following steps:
- Alert your banks and credit institutions.
- Report the crime to local law enforcement.
- File a complaint with the FBI.
- Report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission.
Don’t Let Scammers Steal the Joy of the Holiday Season
The holidays should be a time for family, friends, and laughter. But a holiday scam can quickly turn your “merry and bright” into “expensive and time-consuming” as you clean up a financial or identity fraud nightmare.
Following the tips above can help you identify and prevent holiday scams, so you can spend more time celebrating the season and less time recovering lost funds.
With the holiday season in full swing, it’s a great time to sit down and make a budget for holiday spending so you don’t end up with new year’s buyer’s remorse, an empty checking account, or sky-high credit card bills. Check out The Ultimate Holiday Budgeting Checklist & Planner to learn how to anticipate and organize holiday expenses, make a simple spending plan, and start the new year financially strong.