Top Tips to Avoid Scams this Holiday Season


With the holiday shopping season in full swing, millions of shoppers are making their lists and checking them twice. Although most items on your list fall into the “nice” category, there are many “naughty” scammers out there working overtime to get their hands on people’s hard-earned money during the busy weeks ahead. This is their favorite time of year because they know we’re all looking for a great deal on the perfect gift which makes us more susceptible to their wiles.

To avoid becoming the next victim of a holiday shopping scam, consider the following tips before making any holiday purchase, especially when shopping online.

Think Smart and Trust Your Gut

You’re likely to see many great deals offered during the holiday season. Don’t allow yourself to get too carried away with a deal that seems too good to be true … because your gut is probably right, it probably is too good to be true. Your disbelief is the first red flag that an online deal may be a scam. Do a little checking for yourself. Do a quick search for the same product on other shopping sites. If the deal on the product is substantially lower than listed on other sites, it’s probably a scam.

Online Shopping Scams

With all the potential chaos one faces shopping this time of year, it’s no wonder many choose to shop online. But, buyer beware. Before making any purchases, make sure your antivirus software is up-to-date. Bogus websites claiming to have the latest gizmo or this year’s “hot toy” may be nothing more than malicious links ready to install harmful software onto your computer, some which then record your usernames and passwords.

Make sure any website you shop with contains an HTTPS security designation. You’ll be able to tell this by looking at the URL. You should see “https://” prior to the URL, rather than the typical “http://.”

It’s best to limit your shopping to known websites that have a trusted reputation for customer service. If, however, you decide to shop at a lesser known store, do a Google search using the store name. Check out any reviews written about the store, looking specifically for bad reviews. Avoid any store with multiple bad reviews. All stores have disgruntled customers, so one or two bad reviews may not mean anything but look at all reviews carefully. Please note, however, newer sites specifically set up to scam shoppers for this shopping season will not be around long enough to have reviews of any kind, good or bad.

When you’re on the store’s website, look for their contact information, phone number and physical address. Be suspicious of an online store who is unwilling to provide a way for you to contact them. Look at their return policies and their “Terms and Conditions” pages. Bogus sites often lack these pages. If the pages seem “off” or are rife with spelling and grammatical errors, don’t trust the site.

If you lose a bid in an online auction, don’t trust an offer that comes to you after the fact to buy the same thing offsite. It’s probably a scam.

Email Scams

Even when your shopping is done, you’re still at risk. Common email scams work by portraying themselves as a major name brand site such as PayPal or Amazon. If you receive an email stating that something is wrong with your order, do not click on the link provided in the email. Links from an unofficial source can and will install malicious software onto your computer. Never click a link in the email, especially an email that you weren’t expecting. (Check out this article about Spear Phishing to learn more.)

Instead, go directly to your account on that company’s website and attempt to locate the problem yourself. If you don’t see a problem, you can call customer service and have them check for you just to make sure.

Don’t believe emails that claim that FedEx, USPS, UPS or DHL is trying to deliver a package to you and they need more details. This is just another way to install malicious software on your computer. Unless you have provided your email address to a courier service, you won’t be contacted by them via email.

Don’t allow panic to set in and click on a link provided in an email, you’ll be playing right into the scammer’s plans.

Charity Scams

The holidays are a time for giving, and many charities collect monies at this time. Imposters posing as those same charities also contact donors via phone and email to solicit funds from unsuspecting and generous donors. If contacted by a charity (real or imposter), and you want to donate, it’s best to obtain the charity’s contact information from an independent source and then contact the charity directly yourself. Or, ask the caller to mail brochures to you so you can authenticate the organization before you give. This way, you’ll make sure your money is going to the real organization.

Scammers even use social media to beg for support for their “cause;” therefore, remember to investigate all charities thoroughly before giving.

Travel Scams

You may have already booked your holiday plans, but if you haven’t, or if a last-minute need arises, it’s important you make your plans through reputable websites. Don’t give into temptation and click on suspicious advertisements. Instead, check out sites like Priceline, Travelocity, Kayak or Google Flights. If your plans are flexible, check different departure and arrival dates to find the best savings.

Employment Scams

Many people need extra cash during the holidays, and many stores need seasonal workers. But if you receive an email or phone call from a store offering you an easy job and asking for personal or identifying information, don’t give it to them. Keep all personal and identifying information to yourself until you can fill out the paperwork in person.

Text Scams

Technology provides ways for scammers to get to you, and the cell phone is no different. According to a study, 70% of all cellphone text spam has the intent of defrauding you. Compare this to spam emails which are only about 10% and you better understand the danger. Never respond to these “smishing” attempts. Just don’t. Even replying with “STOP” or “NO” confirms that they have a live, active contact which leads to even more spam. Never dial a call-back number.

Forward the texts to 7726 (SPAM on most keypads) which alerts your carrier to block future texts from these numbers.

Keep your cellphone software up-to-date. Never store credit care or account log-in information in emails or notes on your phone.

More Information

If you want to report fraud or scams, go to the US Department of Justice website. If you want holiday shopping tips, check out this Federal Trade Commission’s article.

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Remember … keep your money and your information safe this holiday season. The only thing these scammers should get from you or Santa this year is coal.