The holidays are here. And while most of us are filled with a giving spirit, there are Grinches waiting in the wings ready to steal, scam and lie their way into our wallets (and our inboxes).
We’ve gathered four common fraud schemes to be aware of this holiday season, along with tips to avoid them and how to keep you, your data and your finances safe.
It’s disheartening, but there are legions of fraudsters waiting to dupe you into contributing to what you believe is a worthy cause. If you receive a phone call, email, letter or even a text requesting charitable donations, it’s best to first authenticate the organization on charity-verifying sites such as Give.org and Charity Navigator. Also beware of phony charity sites that trick people into donating on what they believe is a legitimate website. Crowdsourced fundraising sites can also be suspect, so only give to crowdfunding efforts established by people you know.
Phishing emails and bogus retail websites
It’s also high tide for online shopping fraud. Like fake charity sites, scammers are skilled at creating counterfeit retail websites that look like the real thing. Beware of suspicious, unsolicited emails announcing special deals and flash sales, as they’ll often lead to fraudulent websites designed to capture, then capitalize on, your personal data. When evaluating these emails, hover over links (without clicking) to check where they lead (amazon-store.com, for example, instead of the legitimate amazon.com), check for misspellings and examine the sender’s address to make sure it originates from a legitimate business.
Regardless of time of year, a good rule of thumb is to only enter sensitive personal data on websites that begin with “https,” which signifies that all entered information is encrypted and therefore protected from theft.
Gift card fraud
Scams abound when it comes to gift cards. As with most things that seem too good to be true, steer clear of ads and emails offering free gift cards, as they’re typically linked with phishing scams. When purchasing gift cards, avoid third-party and auction websites, as they often feature fraudulent, expired or valueless cards.
If you’re the recipient of a gift card you can’t or don’t want to use, use caution with online buyers, especially those requesting a three-way call “balance check,” which usually leads to data theft1. Finally, never pay for anything with a gift card other than goods or services from the gift card issuer. Consumer safety experts agree2 that anyone who asks for payment via gift card is inevitably a scammer.
Shipping and delivery scams
This time of year also means packages, and lots of them. Scammers are ready to take advantage of shipping season by blasting out fake delivery notifications. If you receive a shipping or delivery email that directs you to a website that requires personal information (such as a Social Security or credit card number) or payment, exit the site immediately, as shipping companies never request personal information.
These emails can often look nearly identical to those from legitimate shippers, including FedEx, UPS and the United States Postal Service. If you’re unsure about an email, or a “we missed you” door hanger or sticker, look up the official number of the shipping company, then call them to verify the notification. The extra effort is worth your data’s safety — and your peace of mind.
Keep your personal information safe this holiday season
It seems like there are more scams than ever these days, and, unfortunately, it only gets worse around the holidays. The best way to keep your data safe is to be aware of common scams, take steps to avoid them and keep your eye out for anything suspicious. If it seems fishy (or phishy), it probably is.
1Stanger, Tobie. “5 Holiday Scams to Avoid.” ConsumerReports.org https://www.consumerreports.org/scams-fraud/holiday-scams-to-avoid/ (accessed November 8, 2019).
2Leach, Jennifer. “Asked to pay by gift card? Don’t.” Consumer.ftc.gov. https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2018/05/asked-pay-gift-card-dont (accessed November 8, 2019).