- Online shopping presents many hazards, including common scams like phishing, search engine fraud and tech support scams.
- The busy nature of the holiday shopping season requires consumers to take extra care when making purchases or providing donations to their favorite charities online.
- Understanding how common scams work, exercising caution while shopping online and protecting your personal information can help you avoid falling victim to fraud.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 and 2021 saw a seismic shift in the online commerce landscape. Consumers around the world, stuck at home, resorted to online shopping at higher rates than ever before. But that’s not all — other transactions commonly conducted “in the real world,” such as through charitable giving, have also become increasingly virtual.
This push for virtual services offers convenience for the typical consumer. Unfortunately, it also presents a host of scam-related dangers that appear with the predictability of holiday movies, and threaten the money and sensitive information of shoppers around the world.
Listed below are five common holiday scams including tips on how to help keep yourself and your loved ones safe online.
1. Phishing messages
Phishing has been an issue for as long as the internet has existed. The premise is simple: A scammer sends a deceptive email designed to trick the victim into providing sensitive information or money.
Phishing can take several forms. Some scams entice the reader to click a link leading to a fake website, while others request information in exchange for some reward, like a coupon or a “great deal.” Scams based on phony package delivery notifications may be especially popular during the holidays when online ordering volume increases.
Phishing can take place via text, too, though it’s usually called “smishing” (a play on “phishing” and “SMS”).
The best defense against phishing is to simply be cautious when dealing with unsolicited texts or emails. Never reveal personal information if you didn’t initiate contact with a trusted party.
2. Technical support scams
Many people purchase holiday gifts that require tech support to set up which presents a prime opportunity for scammers to prey on vulnerable consumers.
Tech support scams are a specific form of social engineering where the scammer poses as a tech support representative and tries to convince you to answer the phone or click on a deceptive link. The ultimate goal is for the scammer to gain access to your device. If successful, this access can allow the installation of harmful software and malware which can help unearth your sensitive information on the scammer’s behalf.
As with traditional phishing, the best defense mechanism is to simply be cautious and avoid providing device access to anyone who’s not a trusted party that you contacted of your own accord.
3. Gift card fraud
Gift card scams are exactly what they sound like: A scammer requests payment via gift card for a deceptive reason. Some scammers may use urgency to their advantage by calling you and suggesting that you or a family member is in trouble and that paying with a gift card will resolve the issue. Other times, a scammer may suggest you’ve won a prize, but instruct you to pay a fee with a gift card to claim the prize.
Regardless of the method behind the scam, never provide payments via gift card. No reputable organization or company will ever request this and any organization that does so is likely scamming you.
4. Search engine fraud
Unlike classic email scams, search engine fraud depends on the victim visiting a fraudulent website themselves while searching for a product or service.
For example, if you’re searching for an affordable TV, you may perform a Google search for “60 inch TV” and scroll through the results to find a price within your budget. This is where things become treacherous. Eventually, you might stumble upon a site that looks dependable, but was actually developed to scam customers out of their money or personal information. This scam could also take the shape of a reliable-looking website that simply sells poor-quality, knockoff products.
Be mindful when clicking ads at the top of the search engine results page, as well, since they could also lead to poor-quality or deceptive websites funded by scammers.
Instead, stick with some of the reputable, high-quality (non-ad) results, and research the site using terms like “scam” and “complaints” before purchasing from them if you’ve never shopped there before.
5. Fake charities
Giving to charities close to your heart during the holidays can be rewarding, but it’s crucial to exercise the same caution when donating as when you’re shopping online. Charity scammers are quick to take advantage of those with a giving nature, sometimes making phone calls or sending fraudulent emails purporting to represent legitimate charities.
If you’d like to donate, consider reaching out to charities yourself and vetting those charities you’re interested in supporting by using a site like Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, GuideStar and/or BBB Wise Giving Alliance.
How to stay safe from holiday scams
When it comes to scams, a combination of caution and education is the best defense. Try your best to be aware of the many ways in which scammers might deceive you and understand how you can protect yourself. Keep these tips in mind to promote a worry-free holiday:
- Pay with credit cards online: Credit cards typically make it easier to challenge fraudulent charges than debit cards.
- Set up fraud and spending alerts: Bank and credit card accounts often allow you to set up alerts for your own protection. Activate fraud alerts wherever available and set up alerts for when you’ve been charged above certain amounts, too.
- Check emails and websites for red flags: Warning signs can include things like spelling and grammatical mistakes, as well as unnecessarily urgent payment timelines.
- Shop with reputable retailers: Even if you’d like to shop with a business that’s less well known, you should be able to research reviews and other information to confirm its legitimacy.
- Be suspicious when asked for personal information: Unless you initiated contact with a trusted party, avoid providing personal information. Unsolicited requests for this information should be denied.
How can First Republic help protect you from scams?
First Republic is here to help. The Bank’s dedicated Cyber Advisory Services Team offers complimentary cyber services, including an Internet Security Health Check and Cybersecurity Awareness Sessions. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more or to request assistance today.