2020 has been unusual in many ways, so it’s not surprising that holiday shopping is dramatically different this year. People are making many more purchases online – some for the first time. Gift-giving and charitable donations are going virtual, as well.
While the increase in online shopping is a great way to maintain the holiday spirit in a challenging time, it has also caught the attention of fraudsters. They show up this time of year with the predictability of classic holiday movies – and they’re even more on the prowl than normal. Below are the most common holiday scams in 2020:
Phishing Emails. Almost as old as the Internet itself, phishing emails ask you to provide sensitive information or click on a link that takes you to a fake website that downloads malicious software on your device, or steals your username and password. The lures can be a promise of a great deal, coupons, information about a delivery, and many other pitches. Be wary when contacted out of the blue, by email or text, and asked to provide confidential information.
Tech Support Scam. During holiday season, many people buy gifts that may require some form of Tech Support to set up. This can be another ruse to get you to click on a link (especially through email) that installs harmful malware on your devices.
Gift Card Fraud. An email asking you to send a gift card to a friend, family member or charity could be a scam. Gift cards are like cash – and once sent are nearly impossible to get back. Anytime you’re asked to make an unusual form of payment, like a gift card or wire transfer, always pick up the phone and verbally confirm the instructions .
Search Engine Frauds. When shopping for a popular product at a good price, you can go deep down the list of search engine results. Sometimes, this can lead to fraudulent sites. They might steal your information. You might pay and get an inferior knockoff – or not receive anything at all. To avoid these problems, exercise due diligence: click on the first native, or “non-advertising” link. Ads can be fake and created by fraudsters to surface first in search engine results Do a search of the seller’s name or web site address along with keywords “scam,” “complaints,” or “reviews” to see if any issues come up.
Fake Charities. Giving to worthy causes can feel wonderful during the holidays. Being taken by fake charities conjures other feelings. Fraudsters often tip their hand by asking for unusual payment methods, pushing hard for a donation, or putting you on a timer to donate. Always ask yourself if these are things a legitimate charity would do. You can vet charities through a number of sites -- CharityNavigator, CharityWatch, GuideStar, and BBB Wise Giving Alliance.
More Tips to Stay Safe
- Credit cards are the safest way to make payments online. They have the best mechanism for challenging fraudulent charges.
- Set up alerts on your credit card and banking accounts to let you know when you’ve been charged above certain amounts.
- Check for misspelling and grammar mistakes, as well as unnecessarily urgent timelines with pressure to pay or donate, on emails and web sites. It’s often a sign of fraudsters at work.
- Ensure you’re visiting reputable known business websites when doing your holiday shopping.
- Be suspicious of anyone who asks for personal information, like social security numbers and date of birth, that they have no legitimate reason to need.