The holiday season’s sharp uptick in spending gives fraudsters and scammers the perfect opportunity to prey on consumers looking to find the ideal gift at the right price. Online shopping, package deliveries, and even charitable donations have become a minefield of phishing scams and fake ads that can be hard to differentiate from the real thing. The following are the most prevalent scams to be wary of this season.
Scammers pose as legitimate organizations and send texts or emails containing links aimed at stealing personal information, such as credit card or bank account details. These scams can be especially effective during the holiday season, when consumers are tracking mail orders, donating money to charity, and on the lookout for deals on gifts.
The busy season also means that inboxes and cell phones are inundated with marketing materials, making it easier for a nefarious message to slip between the cracks. A particularly common holiday phishing theme is a message purporting to be from Amazon, FedEx, or UPS that notifies the recipient of a package delivery error.
Telltale signs of a phishing scam include typos throughout the message, a suspicious domain name if it’s an email, and time pressure, e.g., “Verify your account details through the link below within two business days or risk account closure” or “Sale ends in ten hours—click here to purchase your discounted iPhone.”
Social Media Ad Scams
Ad scams on social media sites like Facebook or Instagram promote a fake product or service that the consumer pays for and does not receive. These scams will often involve a “too good to be true” deal, such as a steeply discounted product with free priority shipping.
Instead of buying something via a social media ad, consumers should make their purchases through the company website. In cases where the website also appears disreputable, consumers should look for a similar product or service on a trustworthy platform like Amazon or a well-known store website such as Macy’s.
Fraudsters take advantage of consumers’ generosity around the holidays to solicit donations for fake charities, often posing as legitimate organizations or completely fabricated entities. These scams target consumers through a variety of methods, including phishing messages, social media ads, and even phone calls.
Consumers should verify the legitimacy of the charity by looking it up on its official website or checking to see if it is registered. Only ever give money through official charity websites, never through links. When in doubt as to a charity’s veracity, it is always better to give to a reputable, well-known one.
Browser Extension Scams
Browser extension scams: Legitimate browser extensions like Coupon Cabin scour the web for coupon codes and deals, and scammers are exploiting a surge in online shopping to peddle fake ones. Fake browser extensions install spyware on computers that then steals consumers’ personal information. Consumers should always do their homework and ensure the browser extension is legitimate before clicking on any links and looking to download one.
Gift Card Scams
Gift cards are often the solution for that hard-to-buy-for relative, but they are prized easy money for scammers. Scammers are transposing their own barcodes on top of gift cards’ valid ones, so when a consumer purchases the card, their money is sent to the account linked by the scammer.
Before even heading to the checkout counter, consumers should inspect gift cards for evidence of tampering, such as stickers covering barcodes and ripped packaging. Websites and social media ads also advertise gift cards for discounts, which are often ploys to steal personal information, such as payment card numbers.
Package Delivery Theft
In today’s world of online fraud and scams, consumers may forget that old-fashioned theft is alive and well. So-called “porch piracy” cases are on the rise, in part due to an increase in online shopping since the pandemic: In 2022, a reported 79% of Americans had a delivery stolen.1
Deterrents include security cameras, requiring a signature for delivery, and the use of designated pickup locations.
Financial criminals’ adoption of emerging technologies such as generative AI is increasing. Phishing messages and copy for fake ads are becoming more refined and believable. Consumers will have to be extra vigilant this season: be suspicious even when faced with seemingly legitimate ads and messages, conduct research before clicking on links, and always err on the side of caution. It is always a good idea to monitor accounts for unusual activity and to immediately report such instances.
To hear our experts talk about scams and other trends going into 2024, register for our webinar on the Top Trends in Risk in 2024, scheduled for 11:00 a.m. EST on January 9, 2024.