Avoid These Online Holiday Scams Sure to Surface This Holiday Season

The holidays are a special time of year. Cybercriminals particularly love the season. Potential victims, caught up in holiday spirit and feelings of generosity, are more inclined to let their guard down. Subsequently, scams involving fraudulent deals, package deliveries, sales promotions, gift cards and even fake websites are more likely to succeed. 

The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), the FBI’s cybercrime tracking public resource, noted within its most recent annual report that the number of annual complaints it’s received have more than doubled from about 350,000 in 2018 to more than 800,000 in 2022. Worse, the corresponding losses related to those cybercrimes more than tripled from $2.7 billion in 2018 to $10.3 billion in 2022. Non-payment and non-delivery complaints (in which a victim pays for goods they never receive or ship merchandise for which they never receive payment) and personal data breaches (in which victims provide their personal and banking information unknowingly to a cybercriminal), which constitute more than 100,000 complaints reported to the agency each year, are particularly problematic threats during the holidays. 

The first step combatting this year’s online holiday scams is recognizing the various ways such threats surface. And surface they do. AARP notes some 75 percent of US consumers have either experienced or been targeted by at least one form of holiday fraud. The organization adds that these scams especially target online shopping. So be wary of any of the following scams often associated with fraudulent holiday shopping and resist responding to such solicitations, which constitutes the second step in combatting annual holiday frauds that depend upon your goodwill and holiday cheer, along with maybe a little suspension of belief so common to the season, to succeed. 

Package Delivery Scams 

Hackers love sending phishing messages—both by email and by text—to trick you into clicking on links or providing personal information. Knowing you’re likely sending and receiving packages for the holidays, cybercriminals disguise these efforts within emails and text messages regarding deliveries. These fake messages often reference a problem with a package you sent or a shipment you’re awaiting. But these phishing messages aren’t referring to a real package or legitimate delivery. Instead, they’re trying to trick you into clicking on a link that could install ransomware or connect to a site that collects your personal information so the cybercriminals can steal your identity. Just ignore and delete such entreaties. 

Charity Scams 

Many Americans make sizable charitable contributions during the holidays. Fake charities, fraudulent promotional messages and nefarious telemarketers all seize on that trend by seeking donations to their sham initiatives. Whenever making a donation, first do some homework, especially if the supposed nonprofit organization is particularly pushy or seeks an immediate donation. So, too, should you avoid holiday charity solicitations that request payments in cash or by gift card or wire transfer. When making charitable donations, first research the organization—Charity Navigator, CharityWatch and the IRS’ list of valid tax exempt organizations can help you— to confirm its legitimacy and, when making a donation, pay by credit card and never provide such personal information as your Social Security number or date of birth. 

Gift Card Scams 

Gift cards can’t really be traced so they’re a favorite form of compensation hackers prize. Online holiday shopping scams often insist you pay using a gift card or wire transfer. Unless you’re absolutely certain the vendor with which you’re working is legitimate, avoid both forms of payment when holiday shopping on the web, especially as the FBI recommends using a credit card when shopping online. 

Fake Websites 

Whether trying to trick you into making a sham charitable contribution or saving money thanks to a deep discount on this holiday season’s most popular purchases, hackers register websites whose spelling might be similar to a trusted retailer. Cybercriminals even prop up fake websites impersonating legitimate outlets and purchase ads on popular search engines and social media apps to try and lure you to these fraudulent webpages. The FBI recommends taking several steps whenever purchasing from an unfamiliar online vendor including checking the website’s URL to ensure it’s legitimate and contains https: within the address, reading the online site’s reviews and avoiding purchasing from supposed authorized dealers or outlets overseas. And the FBI reminds you that, as the saying goes, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” 

Phony Gift and Travel Offers 

Other common holiday frauds include emails and ads that promise free or heavily discounted gifts or travel. As the FBI noted regarding suspicious website offers, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. It’s best to ignore solicitations, especially from unknown parties, when they offer free gifts or trips for a fraction of the normal price. Same thing for heavily discounted goods and travel. Ignore such offers and shop only reputable outlets. 

Holiday Cards 

Watch out, too, for greeting cards sent via email. Hackers often employ fake holiday greetings to trick you into clicking on a nefarious link that loads a virus or ransomware or providing personal information that can be used to steal your identity or access your financial accounts. While the sender might act as if you know one another, or state you’ve previously done business together—one common theme is to reference a recent purchase you made from the company—they’re lying. You haven’t done business with them before. You don’t know them. They don’t really wish you holiday blessings. Instead, they’re trying to dupe you into clicking on an infectious link or provide your personal information so they can steal your identity and funds. Avoid responding to holiday cards sent to you by email and holiday well wishes sent by text when you’re uncertain who actually sent the message or you don’t definitively recognize the other party. 

Stay On Guard This Holiday Season 

Protect yourself from holiday scams. It’s that time of year, so be particularly suspicious whenever receiving unexpected texts and strange email messages and remain wary of online ads, promotions and websites offering deals that seem too good to be true. 

Several government agencies and organizations maintain news sites and resources designed to assist spotting and avoiding holiday scams. Here are a few to consider visiting throughout the holiday season for the latest updates and alerts.