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.
8 Holiday Scams to Be Aware Of
While scams can happen at any time of the year, these eight are especially prevalent during the holidays.
1. USPS Blue Postal Box Theft
Postal theft is an unfortunately common scam, especially during the holidays when people receive packages containing gifts. Thieves will break into almost any kind of mailboxes, but especially the blue USPS mailboxes, to steal whatever they find inside. To reduce this type of theft, drop off items— including letters and cards— inside the post office.
2. 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.
3. Tech Support Scams
Tech support scams are highly sophisticated schemes designed to trick people into giving away personal information, account info such as passwords and secure login codes, or money for services that do not exist. To avoid tech support scams— whether it’s from your bank, online retailer, or other service— keep the following tips in mind:
- Always refuse requests for remote access to your computer
- Only purchase tech products from reputable retailers or companies directly from their websites
- Never give share secure access codes with someone requesting them, even if they claim to work for the company
To avoid scams, always reach out to companies yourself using the telephone number or support email on their website.
If you get a call from someone who claims to be from a company you have worked with, like Geek Squad or other tech support agencies: find out their name, hang up, and call back using the public, verified phone number for their services. A legitimate company will always accept a call back so you can verify their identity.
4. 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.
5. 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!
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
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.
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