Holiday Scams

The holidays are a time for family, friends and the inevitable rush of snagging a great holiday deal. But don’t think you’re the only one excited for the holiday shopping season — scammers have created their own “season of scams” and your name is definitely on their list.

A shocking 40 percent of online fraud happens during the last three months of the year, according to Trustev. This spike in fraud and related scams intersects the holiday season as consumers get lost in the hustle and bustle of shopping, traveling and prepping for the upcoming celebrations.

So whether you’re braving the crowded malls or curling up at home for an afternoon of online shopping, we’ve laid out the top tips on how consumers can tackle such threats during the season of scams.

Charity Scams
Tis’ the season of giving! But just because your heart is in the right place doesn’t mean everyone shares your charitable nature. There are thousands of unrepeatable charities out there and many bare names similar to established organizations to help disguise their poor standing.

Never donate without doing your homework first by researching potential charities using Charity Navigator, Guide Star, or You will also want to scan America’s Worst Charities to make sure you don’t give to a charity on that list.

The crowded stores and our “holiday autopilot” mindset create the perfect storm for pickpockets. Be vigilant of your personal space and keep your personal belongings in your line of sight. If you usually wear a purse, consider switching to a cross-body style as these are harder to snatch. In case a theft were to occur, never carry all of your payment cards on you at once; leave some securely stored at home.

Letters from Santa
Several companies offer personalized letters from Santa; however, there are many imposters who will take your money without rendering services or use it as a front to collect payment card data. Check with the BBB before placing an order with one of these organizations.

Phishing Scams
Phishing is when a scammer poses as a legitimate person or organization and requests money or personal information, typically in the form of an unbelievable deal, a threatening notice or a request for account/order confirmation.

The key to picking up on this scam is searching for the most subtle of clues, such as poor grammar, urgent requests, unfamiliar domain names and URLS and generic greetings. A legitimate email sender would know you by name.

Do you think you would this recognize this as a fake order confirmation phishing email?

Holiday Scams Home Depot Email Confirmation Scam
Source: Krebs on Security. (Also impacted: Target and Walmart).

Never click on links within a phishing email nor reply to or forward one. Report the incident to the organization being impersonated immediately.

Look-alike Websites or Unsecure Online Retailers
Fake websites, unsecure checkouts and hackers are you’re primary threats in cyberspace. Read online reviews before making a purchase from an unfamiliar retailer and look for the “https” before entering personal or financial information. Verify that a retailer is in good standing by checking their BBB rating.

When shopping online, you should also keep your software up-to-date, use strong passwords and be cautious when clicking on unfamiliar links — especially in emails — as they can lead to viruses or malware. These threats may allow hackers to spy on your digital activities, including what you type (known as keylogging).

Social Media Gift Exchange
A pyramid scheme operating as a gift exchange is making its way around social media. Users post a chain letter-type status asking friends to join this gift exchange. The messages claim if you buy a gift for the original poster and invite more friends to join, you will receive up to 36 gifts in return. This is a run-of-the-mill pyramid scheme. It’s mathematically impossible to sustain and it’s illegal.

Free Gift Cards
Pop-up ads, emails or social media users offering free gift cards tend to become more frequent around the holidays. These free gift cards are often just a ploy to get your personal information so it can be used to commit identity theft. Walmart is frequently impersonated to run these holiday scams.

Data Breaches
With every purchase you make with a payment card, you’re handing your card’s information over to that retailer. Can you be sure they’re taking adequate measures to secure such data?

Data breaches are a growing concern, especially around the holidays — must I remind you of the Target breach that leaked 40 million credit card numbers during the peak of holiday shopping? Many of those customers spent their holidays cleaning up suspicious charges instead of fully enjoying the season.

Avoid being a breach victim and use cash instead of a card in person, use credit instead of debit online (credit cards offer greater liability protection), take immediate action if you receive a data breach notification and review bank statements frequently for signs of fraud.

What scams have you seen pop up around the holidays? Share your holiday scams story in the comment section below.