Holiday Season Tips

How to spot holiday scams when you are hunting for good bargains, how to avoid fraud and what to do if you have already been scammed. Protect yourself from loosing money this holiday season.

Holiday season is supposed to be a time of cheer and kind memories, but there are many thieves, crooks and cybercriminals of any kind, who want to make a good haul. Scam artists take advantage of our kindness and hit where it is least expected turning holiday cheer into holiday fear.

The good news is that it's not very difficult to fend off holiday scams as long as you know how to spot them and use safe holiday tips. Here we have rounded up the most common holiday scams you should be aware of:

  • phishing scams;
  • charity scams;
  • gift card scams;
  • holiday vacation scams;
  • holiday social media scams;
  • holiday job scams;
  • shopping scams.

holiday season scams

Phishing Scams 

Phishing is a method of website and e-mail spoofing. Scammers use spam, e-mails, instant messages or fake websites being constructed to look identical to real ones to fool people into divulging sensitive information. It could be credit card numbers, bank account passwords etc. There are a lot of tricky scenarios for a victim to take a fisher's bait and forget about holiday safety. For example, a lot of Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals take place online since more and more people prefer online shopping for holiday gifts. Scammers use fake order confirmation e-mails to get access to sensitive data on your PC. They attempt to trick you into clicking links, downloading attachments or opening messages. If you respond to any phishing scam, a scammer will be able to hijack your credentials and to use them for illegal purposes. 

How to avoid fraud? Never open messages from unknown senders! Never provide personal information to any unsolicited requests! Do not click on any links or open attachments you are not sure of. Do not let scammers spread trackers, viruses, or other malware on you device. Look at the following fake Payoneer email for phishing: 

payoneer phishing attack

This is a phishing e-mail. A payor's name is not stated. It is required to click a “Continue” button. And if it fails, fraudsters invite a user to follow a certain link. So, URL looks like a real one but redirects to a phishing website. If you receive an e-mail like this, do not click on any links not to loose your personal information and money.

Charity Scams 

Fake charity scams ramp up just before Christmas, Thanksgiving and other large holidays. They take advantage of your generosity. A scammer poses himself/herself as a genuine charity. His or her task is to make you agree to donate or to give up your credit card information. This can be done in a number of different ways. For example, you may be approached in the street. You may also receive fake e-mails requesting donations. Scammers can create websites identical to those operated by real charity organizations. They will do everything to con you into thinking you really give to charity. These scams are nasty because they divert donations away from legitimate charities.

How to avoid fraud? Beware of fake websites, text messages, and/or e-mails, especially if you are asked to transfer donations. Pay attention to name similarities. Do not donate to unfamiliar organizations on the spot. Be cautious if you hear too emotional appeals. It is a red flag. If possible, complete a research or consult with reputable organizations like CharityWatch to be sure your money is going to a cause you've decided to support. 

A bit more information about charity scams and how to avoid them you can find in the video below:

Gift Card Scams

Gift card scams refer to identity theft. They happen very often during a holiday season as well as Black Friday and Cyber Monday when people hunt for perfect deals. Scammers trick buyers into paying with gift cards from popular brands. In general, the damage is limited to a value of a gift card. Another popular scenario is when scammers jot down a gift card number and wait several days for its activation. As soon as it is loaded with money, scammers shop online on the store's website. So, if you do not want to lose your money, buy gift cards directly from retailers behind the store counter. It's a prerequisite for holiday safety. And do not forget to take a receipt. It is a proof of proper gift card activation. However, you'd rather buy gift cards with a scratch-off panel.
Look at the following issue:

"...My husband and I bought a Home Depot gift card in December of 2012 for $200.00 from Kroger. The card was printed with no pin number or bar code numbers..."

The author faced a problem of a fake Home Depot gift card. No pin number, no bar code numbers and, unfortunately, no replacement. As you can see, such situations occur and you should be very attentive buying gift cards even from a retailer.

Holiday Vacation Scams 

These scams are most commonly found around large holidays such as Christmas, Halloween, or Thanksgiving. A lot of people plan to make bulk purchases or to go on vacation. Scammers need to draw your attention before they could take your money. And they pull really sophisticated schemes for this. For example, free or discounted vacations. You receive a call informing that you have won a destination vacation. You should book immediately providing personal information and a credit card number to make a deposit to guarantee a trip. Another alternative involves online bookings. Con artists construct web sites identical to those operated by reputable travel agencies and trick people into booking fake vacation resorts where a full payment is required. Fraudsters often post a destination property for rent online on popular web resources. Once you contact a renter, you are asked to make a deposit on the rental. 

holiday vacation scams

How to avoid fraud? You should always be aware of specials being too good to be true. If something looks extremely cheap, try to do as much research as possible. Surf the Internet for company reviews before committing to a purchase.

Look at the issue below. An author fell for a possibility of Country Club Vacation free vacation. But in fact, a non-refundable deposit was required:

"...Nothing free guys. It's just wastage of time visiting country club office. They offered Bangkok trip voucher with 6 nights 7 days by saying you don't need to pay a penny. But that's not true. But you have to pay 5500 rs non refundable in advance in off season..."

Holiday Social Media Scams 

Social media scams move very quickly on the Web. It is one of the most common Christmas scam. They can take a lot of forms. Here we describe one particular scam that pops up every holiday season on Facebook. It is known as Gift Exchange. You get a message from a friend inviting you to take part in a secret gift exchange. Your task is to purchase one gift and send it to a certain address. You are promised to receive many gifts in return a bit later. It sounds good, isn't it? In fact, it is pyramid scheme being illegal in the United States. All participants can be accused of mail fraud. Be sure, you won't get any gift. Another social media scam is very popular on Tweeter. For example, you are looking for a particular holiday gift. Having posted a tweet about it, you receive messages from other users offering a product you want to purchase. Be careful! It could be a scam. Do not accept offers from people you hardly know. And do not pay upfront if you are going to buy a gift in this way. You can be taken advantage of. 

Take a look at the example of a gift exchange inviting letter below. It is a typical Secret Sister Gift Exchange scam. It claims that you should buy a gift for only one secret sister, and you will get several in return. 

gift exchange scam

Holiday Job Scams 

A lot of retailers hire temporary workers for a pre-holiday season. They are required to handle the influx of shoppers who hunt for Christmas presents. So, people who need some extra money try to find an unofficial secondary job. But do not apply for every job you see since you can come across fake job offers. Such scams are used to steal your personal information or money.

How to avoid fraud? You should always remember that no legitimate job requires any payment in advance. In case an employer asks you to buy something or to pay for a training course, for example, don't waste your time and go away. You can check information about the company and find safe holiday tips on the Internet. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Holiday job scams are really frequent, and you can make sure of it having watched the following video:

Never forget about holiday safety, even if you are in want of extra money.

Shopping Scams

This type of scams is really large and varied. According to the annual survey released by the National Retail Federation, 69% of Americans consider shopping over Thanksgiving weekend and Cyber Monday. The agency also forecasts an increase in retail sales in December. So, people are ready to spend money for presents, delicious food and events.

But do you know how to avoid fraud? Con artists use this period of the year to "complete a perfect deal", a deal of a lifetime, maybe. You can be scammed both online and in-store. A lot of people find and purchase holiday gifts online. But scammers often create fake websites of legitimate retailers even with similar URLs. And if you shop on your mobile device you can hardly notice the difference because of a shorter address field. Scammers hope that you will mistake and provide your credit card number or personal information. Another serious danger is bogus apps. Frequently, they have specific malware designed to steal users' personal info. Or you can be prompted to login using your Facebook account, revealing your personal data as well. 

How to avoid fraud? As you can see online shopping also has a reverse of the coin. You should be very careful and use merchants' native applications and official websites. Never click on suspicious links. And always create unique logins, difficult-to-guess passwords and use two level authentication.

People who prefer shopping in store can also leave themselves vulnerable to scammers forgetting about holiday safety. It is necessary to check a current account and credit card statements on a regular basis. There are thieves who look over your shoulder when you are entering your PIN. These "shoulder surfers" can easily use these data to steal your money. And do not forget about pick-pockets who like busy shopping periods. They can easily pick your pocket without you realizing it. Pick-pockets operate in crowded places or in close quarters. Actually, there are many methods to take advantage of you.

Look at the issue below. An author posted a review about Wish review seeking for payments on all refunded orders. Having received money, the company went into radio silence:

"...This is about 34000$ you criminal company due for our sales on you marketplace! Stop to respond with automatic non-sense stupid messages and resolve our problem! Already contact you e-mail provided for more than 90 days now and no any response from them - stop You criminal, rip-off scam activity..."

Check for more safe holiday tips below to know how to avoid fraud:

  1. Shop on trusted and verified websites. If you want to avoid fraud you shouldn't use sites you have never heard of. 
  2. Complete a thorough research surfing the Internet for reviews.
  3. Do not make purchases using public Wi-Fi. It is not very difficult for cyber criminals to hack unsecured Wi-Fi, getting access to your data.
  4. Use secure network connection. Shop on sites with a valid "https" connection. 
  5. Take screenshots and keep all receipts. You can require them for legal proceedings. 
  6. Monitor all transactions on your cards on a regular basis.
  7. If you are not sure of a website or a company, check it out on Pissed Consumer or any other website where buyers leave reviews and share their shopping experience. 
  8. Use your common sense and do not let the guards down. Be alert not to be taken advantage of.

What to do if have already been scammed?

If you believe you have fallen a victim of any holiday scam mentioned above, you may seek assistance from the following agencies:

  • NCSA (National Cyber Security Alliance). The institution encourages a culture of cyber security and bears responsibility for keeping sensitive information and systems safe online. 
  • The FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center. The agency accepts complaints about the internet crimes.
  • The Federal Trade Commission. The agency focuses on consumer protection and can help you to prove holiday frauds. 
  • Anti-Phishing Working Group. The company focuses on unifying the global response to cyber crimes. Here you can find a lot of data on how to avoid fraud such as ID theft, phishing and eCrime.

In conclusion, it is necessary to say that in case of holiday scams, you should keep a cold mind and act quickly. Contact your financial institution and close all accounts which can be compromised. Remember that the best protection is prevention and precaution. Check for our safe holiday tips and don't let anybody spoil the party.

  • charity scams
  • gift card scams
  • holiday job scams
  • holiday safety
  • holiday vacation scams
  • phishing scams
  • return scams
  • safe holiday tips
  • shopping scams
  • top holiday scams

While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal, medical, accounting, investment, or any other professional advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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