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12 Holiday Scams to Avoid This Year

Katie DuncanDecember 20, 2023

Reviewed By: The Amplify Fraud Team

The holidays are here! While millions of Americans are gearing up for the season of giving, thieves and cybercriminals are ready for their busiest time of year.

It’s important to be aware of the common scams floating around during the holidays to protect your identity and finances and from unwanted losses. We’ve rounded up some of the most frequent scams out there so you can stay one step ahead of them.

Be Aware of These 12 Holiday Scams

While scams can happen at any time of the year, these twelve are especially prevalent during the holidays.

1. Package Theft

Package theft and postal box theft are additional concerns during the holiday season. As the number of online purchases surges, so does the opportunity for thieves to swipe unattended parcels. These thieves, often referred to as “porch pirates,” boldly walk up to homes and steal packages right from the doorstep. Postal box theft is another rising issue, where criminals break into communal mailboxes or individual postal boxes to steal mail, which more often than not, contain valuable items or sensitive information. Package theft can be prevented in a number of ways, including dropping off packages directly to the post office, requesting signatures upon delivery, and using alternative delivery locations.

2. Public Wi-Fi Networks

Traveling or shopping during the holidays? You may be tempted to use public Wi-Fi networks for internet access. While this may seem like a convenient option, it can also pose serious risks. One of the main dangers of using W-Fi in public is the potential for hacking.

Public Wi-Fi networks are often unsecured, meaning that anyone can access them without a password or other form of authentication. This makes it easier for hackers to intercept data being transmitted over the network, such as login credentials, credit card information, and personal details. Once obtained, this sensitive information can be used for identity theft or other malicious purposes.

Beyond hacking an existing network, cybercriminals can set up their own public Wi-Fi networks to lure unsuspecting users into connecting to them. These fake networks may have names similar to legitimate ones, making it difficult for users to differentiate between the two. By connecting to these fraudulent networks, users unknowingly expose their information and devices to potential threats.

3. Fake Online Stores

The holiday season, while a time of joy and giving, also sees a surge in the number of fake online stores. They may try and look like your favorite store or a popular seller. These fraudulent platforms exploit the festive rush to scam unsuspecting shoppers. Not only do these stores promise attractive deals and discounts to lure in victims, but they also use sophisticated web design to appear legitimate.

Victims of fake online stores may receive either counterfeit products or nothing at all in place of what they ordered. The danger of fake online stores during the holidays extends beyond financial loss to potential breaches of personal security. Shoppers who fall prey to these scams can lose money and sensitive personal information, which can lead to identity theft.

4. Phishing Emails

Phishing scams are another prevalent cyber threat during the holiday season. These scams typically involve seemingly genuine emails or messages from well-known companies, asking recipients to update their personal information or confirm their account details. Often, these emails contain a link leading to a fake website designed to collect the users’ personal data.

Unwary shoppers, in their rush to snag holiday deals, might overlook the subtle signs of such scams, such as spelling errors or suspicious email addresses. The impact of falling for a phishing scam can be devastating, leading to the loss of personal data, financial loss, and potential identity theft.

5. Missed Delivery Notifications

Another prevalent scam during the holiday season is the “Missed Delivery Notification” scam. Scammers posing as legitimate postal or courier services send out emails or texts claiming that a package delivery was attempted but failed due to the recipient’s absence.

These notifications often prompt the recipient to click on a link to reschedule the delivery or pay a small fee to retrieve the package. However, the link typically leads to a fake website designed to steal the user’s personal and financial information. This type of scam can be particularly effective during the holiday season, as many people are expecting package deliveries and may not question the authenticity of such notifications.

6. Charity Scams

For many, donating to charity is a large part of the holiday season. Be wary of charity solicitations that come through random emails or phone calls. Many times, these solicitations are fraudulent and not associated with any legitimate charity organization. Always research any charity organization before donating to ensure that it is real and trustworthy.

7. Gift Card Scams

Gift card scams involve criminals attempting to obtain gift card numbers by manipulating customers into providing them voluntarily in exchange for discounts or other rewards that never materialize.
Gift card scams are usually tied to some other scheme, like a seasonal job scam or a reimbursement scam. If someone asks you to reimburse them via gift cards—it’s probably a scam.

8. Seasonal Job Scams

Seasonal job scams involve individuals posing as employers offering seasonal work opportunities in order to gain access to personal information such as bank account numbers and social security numbers, which they then use for their own purposes. To avoid seasonal job scams, never provide personal information until you have fully verified that the employer is legitimate and that the job offer is genuine.

“Mystery shopping” is a common job scam. When paired with a gift card scam, it can cause quite a bit of financial damage!

9. ID Theft While Traveling

ID theft while traveling is a very real threat during the holiday season, as thieves often target travelers who are distracted by their travels. If you’re traveling, you may be less likely to notice when someone has stolen credit card information or other personal data from your luggage or hotel rooms.

To protect yourself against identity theft while traveling, make sure to keep all credit cards and other important documents in a safe place at all times. Avoid leaving items unattended in public places where thieves could easily access them undetected. Additionally, set up transaction alerts on your phone so you know when a purchase is made immediately.

10. Shoulder Surfing and Skimming

Shoulder surfing involves a scammer looking over someone’s shoulder or using a camera to capture sensitive data while the person is typing on their devices. This could occur in public places such as cafes or shopping malls, where individuals might be checking their bank balances or making online purchases.

Skimming, on the other hand, involves illegally copying information from the magnetic strip of a credit or debit card. Fraudsters use devices known as skimmers that are often placed surreptitiously on ATMs or point of sale terminals. Unwitting victims, while making a regular transaction, have their card details copied, which can then be used for fraudulent purchases or sold on the dark web.

Both of these scams can lead to serious financial loss and potential identity theft, adding to the cybersecurity threats that consumers need to be aware of during the festive season.

11. Coupon & Discount Scams

Coupon and discount scams involve individuals setting up fake websites offering coupons or discounts on products in order to collect personal data such as names, addresses, or payment details, which they can then use for malicious purposes.

To avoid coupon and discount scams, always double-check the reliability of any website offering discounts or coupons before providing any personal information. Better yet, stick with the deals offered directly from the source, not a third-party website.

12. Reimbursement Scams

One of the most common scams is a reimbursement scheme. It all starts with a large deposit into your account or third-party payment app. You might receive a text message or in-app message explaining that they deposited money into your account accidentally—could you reimburse them?

Do not ever send back money. The scammer has submitted the payment fraudulently, and that payment will not be processed—so if you send them money, you are the only one who loses out.

Tips to Avoid Fraud When Online Shopping

With the rise of online shopping, it’s important to keep your financial security in mind. Unfortunately, not all websites are secure, and that can leave you open to fraud. To help protect yourself from online shopping scams and fraud, here are some more tips to keep in mind.

1. Set up transaction notifications with your bank.

One of the most important steps you can take is to set up transaction notifications with your bank. This way, you will be alerted if there is any suspicious activity on your accounts. If your card info has been compromised, you’ll be able to catch any fraudulent transactions before they become a bigger problem.

2. Make sure you understand your card protections.

Different cards have different protection levels. Credit cards typically have more protections than debit cards, but not always! If something goes wrong with a purchase, it’s helpful to know exactly what protections you have.

Bonus tip: consider using a single card for all of your online shopping. This can help isolate a fraud source to one account, rather than all of your accounts.

3. Shop from trusted websites.

It’s also important that you shop from trusted websites. Before making purchases from unfamiliar sites, do some research into their reputation and customer service policies first. You should also make sure the website has an updated privacy policy and secure payment processing system in place before entering any sensitive information like credit card numbers or banking information.

4. Use good, secure passwords.

Password security is more important than ever. Don’t use the same password for every retail account that you make. Otherwise, someone who gains access to one account can gain access to them all—multiple sites and services with different perks for the scammers. For even more protection, use two-factor authentication whenever possible.

5. Don’t give out personal information.

This might be the single most important advice we have for everyone. Do not, no matter how urgent it seems, give out personal information when you receive a text, email, or phone call. If there is something urgent enough to deserve your direct communication, call your financial institution directly—using their public, verified phone number.

Keep Your Finances Safe

You may be taking some time off this time of year, but scammers aren’t! Whether you’re shopping, traveling, or giving to charity, be sure to take extra care to guard your financial and personal information. With just a few simple precautions, you can protect yourself against these eight holiday scams this season.

This blog was originally published December 2, 2022.

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Katie Duncan

Katie Duncan is a financial writer based in Austin, Texas. Her articles include financial advice for freelancers, homebuyers, and more. When she’s not writing, Katie loves traveling and exploring the outdoors with her friends and her dog, Poe.