How To Avoid Getting Scammed During The Holidays
The holidays are a time for family and friends—but scammers will do everything they can to ruin your celebrations.
Scammers work year-round, but prey on the increase of online payments and web usage during the holidays, especially major shopping holidays such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Being scammed can often mean losing money that can’t be recovered—and more seriously, having your identity stolen. It’s a devastating and time-consuming misfortune to experience.
But you can help protect yourself by knowing what common scams during the holidays look like, and how to verify legitimate businesses.
5 Scams to Look Out For This Holiday Season
1. Gift Card Scams
Supply chain woes this year mean that many people will be turning to gift cards rather than purchasing items as gifts this year. Blackhawk Network, a global branded payments provider, forecasts gift card spending to jump 27% this holiday season—and scammers are taking note.
“Scammers love gift cards because they are untraceable, and there’s no way to recover the money once a scammer has the card details,” says Jenny Grounds, CMO of Cybercrime Support Network.
Common gift card scams include scammers telling people to pay a fee with a gift card to avoid being in trouble with the government or pretending to be a family member or friend who needs the funds for a specific store.
Gift cards are the most prevalent payment method for scams, with about one in four people who report fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) saying they paid with a gift card.
The FTC says there’s one key rule to keep in mind: Whenever someone demands to be paid with a gift card, it’s a scam.
2. Charity Scams
Charitable giving increases during the holidays as people look to give back or hope to save on taxes—and scammers are ready to take advantage.
Charity scams can take place online and even over the phone. According to the FTC, scammers will rush people into making a donation, or trick them by thanking them for a donation they never paid for and then asking for payment. They will also use vague and sentimental claims while asking for a donation, but won’t detail how they’ll donate your money.
Always research any charity before you donate (Charity Navigator rates charities by transparency, accountability and financial health) and never give money by gift card, cryptocurrency or wire transfer.
3. Package Delivery Scams
During the pandemic, millions of Americans have turned to online shopping. Most of us are used to tracking our packages online or through text messages—new habits which scammers are using to their advantage.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) warns of delivery notification scam calls and texts. These text messages and calls look like they’re from a legitimate mail or package courier, such as the U.S. Postal Service, and include a fake tracking link. The link will lead you to a website to enter personal information, or it will install malware, a software designed to gain unauthorized access, on your phone or computer. The malware will then start stealing your information.
Package delivery scams can also take the form of voicemail messages prompting you to call back to receive your delivery; the call can result in high connection fees and expensive per-minute rates. The FCC says these numbers can start with an 809 area code or other 10-digit international numbers.
These scams may also request money in return to deliver a package, such as a customs fee or tax.
If you receive a message about an unexpected package delivery, or delay in delivery, always be cautious before moving forward. You can identify harmful links by checking to see if there are any misspelled words, such as “fedx.com.” When in doubt, contact the courier directly for accurate information about your deliveries.
4. Fake Gift Exchanges
Gift exchanges are popular during the holidays in workplaces and among families and friends. But when you see one pop up on your social media feeds, you should know it’s probably a scam.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns of the “Secret Sister” gift exchange that emerges on social media each holiday season. It promises participants they’ll receive up to 36 gifts in exchange for sending one gift, such as a bottle of wine or purchasing a $10 gift online. To participate, it asks you to provide your name, address and information about your friends.
While it may sound fun to exchange gifts and “pay it forward” to strangers, the BBB warns that this is an illegal pyramid scheme in disguise.
“…You give away your personal information, and you’re left with buying and shipping gifts or money to unknown individuals, in hopes that the favor is reciprocated by receiving the promised number of gifts in return,” writes the BBB. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen.”
Not only will you likely not receive any gifts in return, but the schemers will sometimes use the personal information you provided to put you on other scam lists, or worse—commit identity theft. The BBB advises people to report social media posts for these gift exchanges if they see them in their feeds.
5. Temporary Holiday Jobs Scams
The holidays are the busiest time of year for most retailers, so they often hire temporary workers for help. These positions can be a great way to make extra money—but scammers also take advantage of the seasonal hiring season to dupe job seekers.
Sometimes, a job posting will ask the applicant to pay for job supplies, application or training fees. They’ll also promise high wages for routine tasks, such as stuffing envelopes or answering phones. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Another red flag to keep in mind while searching for seasonal work is coming across job postings that ask applicants to complete work for free. You should always request an official offer letter and confirmation in writing of what the job entails and the compensation amount before completing any work.
How to Verify Who You’re Sending Money To
Perpetrators know how to make their scams look legitimate. They’ll adapt common things, such as local area codes or email addresses, to look recognizable enough to trick people into thinking they’re legitimate.
If you’re ever unsure of who might be contacting you, or where you’re sending money to, use these resources to verify the business or charity, or cross-check it with other scams:
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) – The BBB has an entire database that keeps track of scams. You can search via business or charity name, keyword or scam type. The BBB is also a great resource to verify if a business is legitimate by searching the business name on its homepage. You’ll be able to find BBB-accredited and non-accredited businesses and their rating.
- The FTC – The FTC’s scam alert page is regularly updated with blog posts about current scams. You can also enroll in email updates to stay in-the-know about scams.
- Charity Navigator – This nonprofit evaluates charities based on their financial health, accountability and transparency. It also provides information about how donations are used, so you can know exactly how your money will make an impact.
3 Steps to Take If You Think You’ve Been Scammed
Realizing you’ve fallen victim to a scam can be overwhelming. You might experience feelings of guilt or shame for falling into the scammer’s trap. What’s most important, though, is you take action quickly to remedy the situation.
- Contact your bank immediately. If you wired a fake business money, or paid with a credit or debit card, contact your bank immediately and explain that you’ve been a victim of fraud. Ask for the transaction to be canceled and for your money back. In some cases, the payment may have already gone through, and it’ll be too late to stop it—but according to the National Consumer Law Center, consumers can still dispute the payment after the fact to try and get their money back.
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Filing a complaint with the FTC about the scam could help protect others from falling victim to the same practices. After filling out a report, the FTC will also provide you with next steps on how to protect yourself, such as potential ways to get your money back.
- Freeze your credit reports. If your identifying information has been stolen as part of a scam, you’ll want to freeze your credit reports immediately. Doing so is free, and potential creditors won’t be able to access information required to approve new credit applications, which will help prevent scammers from opening accounts in your name.