Written by Alayna Okerlund | Last Updated February 24th, 2020Alayna Okerlund is a finance-focused Senior Content Strategist at BestCompany.com. Over the past three years, Alayna's finance-related research has helped readers feel more financially confident. She has worked with several reputable experts and has provided content for a variety of well-known publications like Forbes, Reader’s Digest, Lifehacker, and more.
The holiday season is a time for joy, family, and gifts. And it’s a season that you may look forward to all year.
Unfortunately, you’re not the only one. Scammers also look forward to the holiday season each year because of the large number of holiday shoppers, who, to be honest, often end up being pretty easy targets.
Most holiday shoppers are likely more focused on getting the best deals and gifts than they are on maintaining their personal security and privacy throughout the holiday season.
If you still have some holiday shopping to do this year, you’ll want to make sure that you don’t fall for the common holiday scam. And the first step to avoiding these scams is to become aware of them.
To help you have a secure and happy holiday season, we asked several experts to discuss which common scams you should keep an eye out for around this time of year.
1. Email phishing
Shannon Wilkinson, CEO and President of Tego Cyber Inc.
“Typical email phishing scams for the holidays come with subject lines about shipping delivery notifications for packages from USPS, FedEx, UPS or offers for gift cards.
If you click on the links in the emails, they’ll redirect you to spoofed (look-a-like) websites that use the same logos and layout as the real site but you really are giving your information to a malicious actor.
For spectacular savings deals you might receive by email, a good rule to follow is that if a deal is too good to be true, it usually is.”
Sean Messier, Credit Industry Analyst at Credit Card Insider
“The holidays are a perfect time for phishing, a scam that involves the use of fraudulent emails to coerce recipients into forking over their private information.
Because emails related to holiday offers are so common, it’s important to be suspicious of any that require you to private personal information before viewing an offer or receiving a discount.”
2. Fake websites and deals
“Certain enterprising scammers may build entire fake shopping websites to steal information. If you’re browsing the web and notice a deal that seems way too good to be true, there’s a chance that it is.”
Chelsea Brown, CEO and Founder of Digital Mom Talk
“The most common scams shoppers need to be aware of this holiday season are fake coupons and websites of legitimate sources and e-skimmers. While virtually every company out there is trying to entice their customers to shop with them, not every coupon or email discount you see is legitimate."
Ray Walsh, Digital Privacy Expert at ProPrivacy.com
“The most common scheme that consumers should watch out for are deals that are too good to be true.
Scammers know that by advertising cheap goods and offers either in spam adverts, emails, or messages, consumers may be tricked into following links and entering their personally identifiable information (PII) and payment information.
When a deal seems too good to be true, be extremely wary because it probably is.”
3. Website plugins
“Customers also need to be aware of plugins on legitimate websites that aren't normally there. These are usually indications that a virus called an e-skimmer is in place. These devices simply copy the payment process to obtain levitate account information for customer's legal purchases.”
Tips from the experts
Knowing about the three common holiday scams is the first step to take when trying to avoid becoming a victim. Now, it's important to recognize what preventative measures you can take to avoid these scams this holiday season.
The following are a few preventative steps provided by the experts:
“While shopping during the holidays, use credit cards over debit cards. Credit cards are known for their excellent, federally mandated fraud protections, and using a credit card means it’s the issuer’s money that’s on the line, not yours.
Before submitting personal details online, make sure the address bar displays a lock symbol and the URL contains “https” instead of ‘http’ to confirm that your information is encrypted.”
“Keep track of your store accounts; especially ones you don't use often. Criminals will open new accounts in your name or try to break into existing accounts. Many customers don't check on store accounts and won't see the additional charges until the bill comes in the mail.”
“Stick to well-known services, and be careful when browsing the web by checking the URL address to ensure that they are really visiting the websites and services they believe they are.”
Four additional scams and how to avoid them
Although the three holiday-related scams listed above are some of the most important to know, unfortunately they aren't the only ones to worry about. There are countless other scams and identity theft threats waiting in the shadows as the holiday season continues to approach.
It's nearly impossible to cover every holiday scam out there; however, we can provide you with some additional information regarding four other scams you can look out for this year:
Fake charity scams
Scam: Scammers are known to create fake charity organizations and use them to collect easy money from unknowing donators.
What you can do to avoid this scam: Make sure to do your research before you make a donation to a charity that you've found online. Ask yourself the following questions when determining if the charity you are wanting to donate to is legitimate:
- Does the charity's website disclose a good amount of information about the cause and where the money will be going?
- Does the charity listing show up when you search for it in a popular search engine like Google?
- Does the charity's website URL look legitimate? Are there any misspellings or major grammatical errors on the website?
- Have you received an email from the charity without giving them your email address?
Additionally, make sure you use a secure form of payment when making online charity donations.
Social media scams
Scam: Scammers can use social media platforms to create fake giveaways, contests, and surveys and use them to gather personal/sensitive information from you.
What you can do to avoid this scam: Be wary of the contests and giveaways you enter on social media. A scammer could potentially use a popular influencer's photos and style to make you think you're entering a legitimate giveaway. Do your research to make sure that the person or company that is conducting the contest/giveaway is legitimate. Check their websites, look up the exact products they are announcing, view the comments, and make sure that you don't provide too much information when you enter. If you are truly worried about giveaway and contest social media scams, it's easiest to just avoid entering giveaways and contests altogether.
Scam: Scammers know that the holiday season is a popular time to travel, so they create fake deals, websites, and even send fake flight confirmation emails to get people to provide them with information and payment details.
What you can do to avoid this scam: Don't fall for too good to be true deals and prices. Some scammers create fake websites that promote fake flight deals that are way too good to be true. If you see a price for a flight that's unbelievably low on a website that isn't that well known, then you might want to avoid that deal at all costs. It's better to spend a little extra than to fall for a fake flight scam. Overall, do your research, keep track of the flights you have booked (keep your email confirmations organized), and try to only book flights from well-known travel booking sites or official airline websites.
Scam: Scammers also know that more and more holiday shoppers purchase their gifts online each year and, not only create fake websites to lure customers in, but also have been known to create certain shipping and delivery package scams that involve fake emails and mail notices. For instance, a fake email situation might occur if you order something online and get an email that claims there is an issue with delivery or shipping. Scammers can trick you by using popular delivery service logos (UPS, FedEx, etc.) and email addresses.
What you can do to avoid this scam: Track your packages on the delivery service websites and research the names, websites, and phone numbers on official-looking mail notices before you provide information or call the number on the notice. Additionally, if you receive an email confirmation, keep a close eye on the email address that the confirmation was sent from. If it doesn't match the website or delivery website that you're using, avoid clicking on any links within that website and contact the real company about the issue.
As previously mentioned, there are many more holiday scams that you should know about than what is provided in this article. In order to prevent falling victim to these scams and other identity theft threats, you can make sure to stay up-to-date on the latest scam news, consider paying for identity theft protection/monitoring services, and take the time to do your research before you click any links in an email and/or make any online purchases this holiday season.