Tell your friends and family to watch out too.
Holiday scams are getting more sophisticated each year. Practice good cybersecurity habits, and be very careful of what calls, texts, and emails you trust.
The holiday season is here, whether you’re happy about it or are a grinch. It’s a time to shop, enjoy the festivities, and spend time with family, but make sure you avoid all the holiday fraud. Unfortunately, every year, thousands of people fall victim to scams.
This time of year is the worst regarding online, mail, and text scams. And when you’re busy buying gifts and traveling, the last thing you want to deal with is a spammer, fraud, or someone trying to steal your hard-earned money, identity, or account info.
Here are a few of the most common scams during the holiday season, tips to avoid them, and extra information to help you stay safe.
Delivery Confirmation Text Scams
Everyone shops online these days, and all those orders shipped to your house are a big target for theft. We already have to deal with porch pirates trying to steal packages from the front door. However, the bigger threat is all those fraudulent text messages and spam about “delivery attempts,” “confirm for delivery,” or “shipment delayed.”
While this isn’t new, it’s a growing problem that re-emerges every holiday season. Scammers send fake text messages claiming that a package is delayed or that you need to confirm the delivery. These messages almost always have a link for you to click, but don’t click on the link.
Whether you have a package coming or not, ignore these messages. They’ll often pretend to be from big retailers like Amazon and Walmart or shipment companies like FedEx, UPS, or the Post Office. That link is either malicious or a phishing attempt, it will try to install malware on your device, or it’ll ask you to pay again for delivery. It should go without saying, but never share your credit card information in a text message.
Again, never click on a link from these shady text messages, and if you’re worried about a package, log into your Amazon account (or the retailer) and check the tracking through official sources.
That Call From Amazon, Apple, or Walmart is Fake
A similar yet different spam approach is that dreaded phone call. And no, Amazon, Apple, Walmart, Best Buy, or other sites will likely never call you.
You will never get a phone call from Amazon about fraud on your account, an Apple employee saying your iCloud was hacked, or anything of that nature. This scam is similar to those old Microsoft fraudulent phone calls.
This type of scam often uses the tactic of fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD). The caller will claim your account got hacked, someone bought an iPhone using your account, or your Amazon profile could get deleted. They’ll “help you fix the problem immediately,” but don’t fall for it.
If you let them talk long enough, most of these phone calls will require you to pay to fix the problem. That itself is a red flag. Furthermore, the caller typically asks for payment through gift cards or cryptocurrency. I don’t answer the phone for numbers I don’t know, but if you do answer and it’s similar to the story above, hang up.
Avoid “Secret Sister” and Secret Santa Gift Exchanges
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a fun secret Santa gift exchange with friends, family, or co-workers around the office, but that’s where this trend should stop. You’ll want to absolutely avoid any “Secret Sister” trends online. Avoid gift exchanges or anything similar that doesn’t involve being in person for the trade.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen this “gift exchange” online every year since it first flooded Facebook in 2015. During the last few holiday seasons, it re-emerged on Facebook, Instagram, and even TikTok. The message calls for buying one $10 gift and sending it to a stranger, and you’ll get several gifts in return.
That “happy mail” from your “secret sis” is a pyramid scheme. You’ll never receive a gift, and you could be out a lot more than just a $10 item you sent to a stranger. Instead, it’ll be the gift that keeps on taking.
To sign up, you’ll give the person in charge all sorts of personal information, including your full name, address, email address, phone number, and sometimes even more. Then, hackers can use that info for identity theft and phishing attacks, try to hack into your accounts, reset passwords, and more.
It’s nasty stuff, so avoid it like the plague. Basically, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
A Few Other Scams
Unfortunately, the season of giving doesn’t stop bad actors. Just like us, it’s their busiest time of the year. We’ve highlighted a few popular scams above, but those aren’t the only ones.
According to the FBI’s 2021 crime report, consumers lost hundreds of millions of dollars during holiday scams. Google blocks over 15 billion scam emails daily this time of year, which is mind-boggling, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So, here are a few other scams you’ll want to be mindful of and avoid.
- Giveaways: Many brands do giveaways during the holidays, but avoid giveaways from unknown sources or if it asks for your credit card info to enter.
- Fake charities: Phone calls, texts, and even letters in the mail from organizations with familiar (but fake) names will ask for charitable donations. Don’t do it.
- Public Wi-Fi: That Wi-Fi at Starbucks or a hotel can be a lifesaver while traveling, but be careful. Hackers target public Wi-Fi with dangerous pop-ups. Free Wi-Fi isn’t always secure, so don’t access your bank account or log in to sensitive sites on public Wi-Fi.
- Targeted emails: Watch out for emails that include specific or targeted information about you or your demographic. Whether that’s a fake email from a previous job, a recent vacation you posted on social media, or phony bank notices.
- Fake stores on social media: Fraudsters will go as far as creating a fake website and use ads on social media displaying huge discounts to trick customers. Look for “https” in the URL (the S stands for secure). Better yet, only buy from sites you know and trust.
- Card skimming: Card skimming at ATMs, gas stations, and payment terminals is still a big problem. Thieves install reading devices on top of existing devices to steal your credit card info. Use a credit card instead of a debit card for more protection, and don’t save your credit card info on retail sites because digital skimming can happen too.
- Subscription renewals: Watch out for spoof emails from antivirus services, streaming platforms, and other subscription services. Scammers make these emails look real, so use caution.
- Crypto scams: Last but not least, we have to mention cryptocurrency. Never share your wallet passphrase with anyone, and never ever send a stranger crypto. Even if you get a threatening email, a blackmail attempt, or promises of huge returns, avoid it all.
Tips to Avoid Holiday Scams or Fraud
In closing, use common sense. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And remember, nothing is free.
You’ll want to be hesitant about unknown or wanted calls, texts, or emails. Don’t share your personal or banking information with sites you don’t know and trust. Research any retailers you don’t know. Never click on random links, no matter where they come from. Be wary of anything that sounds suspicious, and include a gift card. More importantly, use a credit card whenever possible for all the added protections.
Another idea is to make a list and check it twice. Check your debit/credit card purchases and account statements throughout the holiday season to ensure everything is accurate. If anything looks suspicious, act quickly. And recheck it after the holidays for good measure.
Finally, consider using a password manager along with two-factor authentication for online shopping and account logins. I know it sounds harsh, but if you don’t know the person or store, be skeptical of just about everything during the holidays.