Criminals are active year-round, but the holidays offer new opportunities to steal sensitive information from unsuspecting consumers. According to a recent Experian survey, 1 in 4 Americans reported falling victim to holiday scams, losing over $6.9 billion alone in 2021.
Educating yourself on common holiday scams and learning what to do if you suspect fraud is your best defense for protecting your personal and financial well-being.
Gift cards are a popular holiday item thanks to their flexible spending and delivery options. Unfortunately, they're also a prime target for holiday scams, comprising about 25% of all fraud reports.
"Scammers love gift cards because they are untraceable, and there's no way to recover the money once a scammer has the card details," says Jenny Grounds, CMO of Cybercrime Support Network.
Be suspicious of anyone asking you to pay using a gift card. Common tactics include scammers pretending to be government officials asking for payment to avoid legal trouble and fake messages from friends and family members asking you to make transactions using a gift card.
If you purchase gift cards this holiday season, avoid buying from unfamiliar retailers, and always keep the receipt. Information on your receipt or an ID number is critical for filing fraud claims.
Fake online retailers make up another large portion of holiday scams. The number of malicious websites rose 178% during November 2021, compared to the yearly average. As a result, online shoppers searching for the best deals lost $337 million on fraudulent websites.
Before shopping, locate the retailer's Google reviews and visit their social media sites in search for customer feedback. Look for "https" in their website URL, which indicates additional security measures are in place.
Learn additional ways you can shop safely online this holiday season.
Criminals use the uptick in online holiday shopping to devise clever phishing scams around package deliveries. Most commonly criminals will send a message via text or email alerting you of an incoming package.
Once you click the link, you're taken to a fraudulent website where you enter personal information to confirm delivery. In some cases, you may even be asked to pay a tax or redelivery fee. Unfortunately, once you provide your personal information, the criminal has all they need to commit identity theft.
Another common package delivery scam involves voicemail from an "809" area code. With this scam, individuals are asked to return the call for information on package delivery, only to incur a high connection fee from an international number.
Pay close attention to emails and text messages, even if they look legitimate. Phishing attempts often contain slight typos and grammatical errors, a tell-tale sign of fraud. Likewise, never return phone calls from 10-digit international numbers.
If you’re unsure about the source, visit the courier's website to track packages or contact their customer service center.
Roughly 31% of charitable giving happens during December, as consumers look to give back or maximize tax incentives. Unfortunately, for criminals, the increased charitable giving is an opportunity to cash in on your generosity.
Common charity scam warning signs include solicitations where you feel pressured into giving or are thanked for a donation you never made. Fast-talking scammers also try to persuade individuals with vague details on how the donation will be spent. They may be overly sentimental with their emotional appeals, hoping you'll give in and donate.
Websites Charity Navigator, the Better Business Bureau's Give.org website, Charity Watch, and GuideStar are helpful resources for verifying charitable organizations. If you are familiar with the organization, donate directly on its website, instead of clicking links via email or giving over the phone.
In every case, be suspicious of charities asking you to give via wire transfer, cryptocurrency, or gift card, as it is most likely a scam.
Gift exchanges are everyday workplace activities during the holiday season, but when they happen online, it's a tell-tale sign of a scam. So be on the lookout for social media gift exchanges like the "Secret Sister" scam.
Participants joined the Secret Sister exchange by providing their personal information, tagging friends, and purchasing a $10 gift for their designated "secret sister." In return, they could receive up to 36 gifts. Unfortunately, while users thought it was harmless fun, they were joining an illegal pyramid scheme. Most participants never received their gifts, and the information they provided made them susceptible to more fraudulent activities and identity theft.
Social media scams are a favorite for criminals because it's easy to create fake profiles and connect with a broad audience. If you see a gift exchange in your newsfeed, report it and block the sender.
If you're looking to earn some extra cash with seasonal employment, be on the lookout for holiday job scams. Warning signs for job scams include promises of high pay for seemingly easy tasks, such as answering phones or stuffing envelopes. Job seekers should also avoid fraudulent employers asking for money paid upfront for training or supplies.
To help protect yourself, ask for an official offer letter and request the job responsibilities be in writing. Never work for free or accept a position without a formal hiring process.
Criminals use the frenzy around Black Friday and Cyber Monday to lure unsuspecting consumers into scams advertising great deals and sweepstakes. Be very cautious of items like jewelry, electronics, and appliances advertised for free or with heavy discounts, and carefully check emails and texts messages for authenticity before clicking any links. Remember, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
If you suspect or have fallen victim to fraud, complete the steps below as quickly as possible.
Fraud happens daily, but the holiday season gives criminals new opportunities to lure unsuspecting consumers. Be alert and report any unusual activity as soon as possible. Explore more fraud prevention tips and helpful resources by visiting the Fraud Prevention section of our website.