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Six Holiday Scams to Avoid

November 30, 2023 • Education

This year, it’s predicted that Americans will spend an average of $1,000 on gifts, experiences, and other holiday related expenses. Unfortunately, this holiday season, malicious scammers are hard at work targeting shoppers and givers with a long list of new and improved holiday scams.

Sadly, if you fall for one of them, you could lose more than just money—your personal data and online account information are clearly in the scammers’ sights — putting millions of Americans at risk of identity theft, hacking, and fraud.

Here are a few tips on how to recognize and avoid them while shopping and traveling this Christmas.

Here are six holiday scams to avoid.

1. Lookalike shopping websites

Fraudsters create fake, spoofed, and lookalike websites with too-good-to-be-true deals on popular items to trick victims into sending payment or sharing credit card details and personal information.

How to avoid them:

  • You’re less likely to get scammed when shopping on a store’s official website (like Walmart, Best Buy, or Amazon). Stick to known and trusted shopping sites.
  • Check URL to ensure you’re on an official site. Look-alike sites may look and feel real, but are often riddled with errors like typos, suspicious URLs, or incorrect customer service phone numbers.
  • Fake sites often ask for payment in gift cards, wire transfers, cryptocurrencies, or payment through apps like Zelle, Venmo, and Cash App—that’s a big red flag that you’re dealing with a scam site.


2. Fake social media ads for the holiday’s hottest gifts

According to the Better Business Bureau, nearly 40% of all online shopping scams come from Facebook and Instagram ads. Scammers may use fake accounts and stolen photos to advertise steep discounts on luxury or in-demand goods—but the products either don’t arrive or are cheap knockoffs of what was advertised.

How to recognize:

  • If the offer is too-good-to-be-true, it almost always is.  
  • Don’t blindly trust ads or social media posts. Check the official page that posted the ad to see if it’s legitimate.
  • Hover over links on desktop computers to see where they’re taking you before clicking.
3. Spoofed delivery notification texts and emails

Fraudsters often send fake delivery notifications claiming your packages are delayed, require payments, or have other issues that need your attention and will include a link to click to “solve” the issue. If you click it, you’ll be taken to a fake website that will steal your personal and payment information. Last year alone, 34% of Americans received a fake notification about a delivery issue during the holiday season.

How to avoid fake delivery notifications:

  • Block spam text messages on your phone. Most smartphones allow you to block texts from unknown senders.
  • Any unsolicited text message or email is a potential phishing attack. Be very careful before clicking on links in them.
  • Instead of clicking on links in messages, go to the shipper’s official website and enter your tracking number to see if there’s an issue.


4. Malicious holiday apps

Both Apple and Google’s app stores are filled with free holiday-themed apps where kids can chat with Santa, track his progress from the North Pole, and play Christmas games that may include expensive in-app purchases, excessive advertising, or frequent requests for permissions on your device.

Steps to take: 

  • Check reviews on holiday apps and try them yourself before giving your kids access. If “free” apps require credit card details or ask for access to your phone’s microphone and camera, you probably want to skip them.


5. Look out for card skimmers that steal credit card information

Credit card skimmers and shimmers are small devices that scammers place over or inside ATMs and card readers to steal your credit card details.

The bottom line: 

  • Avoid ATMs and card readers in public places that can easily tampered with — such as at gas stations or convenience stores.


6. Porch pirates stealing your targeting holiday deliveries

If your holiday packages are going missing, there isn’t much you can do to get it back unless you have a security camera and proof of the theft.

Here’s how to protect your holiday packages from mail thieves:

  • Sign up for USPS informed delivery and similar programs. Most shippers offer some form of “guaranteed” delivery that requires a photo or your signature to release packages.
  • Get a secure mailbox or alternate delivery options, such as a nearby secure pickup location.
  • If you have video evidence of a package theft, call the local police.
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