The holiday season may be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but it’s also the time of year that holiday scammers ramp up their efforts to separate you from your money. During the holidays, there are seasonal spikes in online shopping, bargain hunting, mailing packages, and charitable giving. This heightened activity can make it easier for scammers to catch you when you’re not paying full attention.
How big a problem is holiday scamming? In 2022, the FBI’s Internet Crimes Complaint Center (IC3) received complaints from nearly 12,000 victims, reporting losses of more than $73 million during the holiday season. (And that statistic only counts scams that were reported to that specific agency.)
Here are some of the things to watch out for, and a few tips to help you avoid being a victim of a holiday scam.
Most common holiday scams
Fake ads and websites. When shopping online, beware of bogus social media ads that may take you to fake websites. These websites often offer deals that sound too good to be true, but in reality, they can steal personal information like your credit card numbers, or install malware on your computer.
Watch for spelling errors, poor grammar, and slightly “off” URLs (like “amozan” rather than “amazon”), poor quality images, and fake-sounding reviews. Also use caution when scanning online marketplaces such as Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or Nextdoor for good deals on holiday gifts.
If you want to safely shop a smaller, less well-known retailer or check out an offer you’ve found, type “[retailer name]” plus “scam” into your search engine to see if it’s legit.
Charity scams. If you want to share your generosity with a charity, make sure your donation is actually going to the charity, not a scammer. Be cautious with requests for money, especially if it’s a charity you’re not familiar with. If you hear of a cause you’d like to help, go directly to their website for donation options. You can also check Charity Navigator or Charity Watch to see if the organization is legitimate.
Phishing emails. Your inbox is probably bulging with “special holiday offers”—but before you click on any links, make sure that email is really from the company it says it’s from. “Phishing” emails look like they come from companies you trust, but they actually come from scammers. Don’t click links embedded in the email. Go directly to the company’s website if you want to see if a deal mentioned is real.
Fake delivery emails or texts. You may receive an email or a text message claiming you have a package that can’t be delivered, asking you to click a link to provide more information, or to pay a fee to have the package delivered. These links take you to a website designed to steal your personal information and send it to scammers. FedEx, UPS, and the USPS will not request your social security number or credit card info to track a package.
Gift card schemes. Gift cards make great presents, but be careful where you buy them. Avoid fake stores online or ads on sites like Craigslist for discounted gift cards, and buy your gift cards from reputable websites or retailers. Always keep your receipts and activation codes, too.
A few more tips to protect and prevent holiday fraud
Pay by credit card rather than debit card. Most credit card companies offer some protection against theft and fraud.
Don’t use public wi-fi to make purchases or access password protected sites. Hackers can break in and steal your info.
Create unique passwords for your accounts, especially financial accounts. Turn on multi-factor authentication for extra peace of mind.
Monitor your bank accounts and credit card statements for unauthorized activity.
Don’t allow yourself to be rushed into making a purchase, providing information, or donating to a charity. Take your time to check out the legitimacy of the offer. If you do find you’re the victim of a scam, report the crime to the FBI’s Internet Crimes Complaint Center, the online payment service you used for the transaction, and your financial institution—it may be possible to stop or reverse the transaction.
These are only a few of the precautions you can take to protect yourself from holiday scams. For more information on protecting yourself from cybercrime, see “Four Ways to Protect Yourself from Cybercrime.”
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