Seasons Cheer – and Scammers? Ways to Spot and Stop a Consumer Scam.

by nrichardson
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Magnifying glass reading the word fraud.

It’s the “ho ho ho” holiday season, which means an uptick in cheer, twinkly lights, shopping, and … scammers? Yes, unfortunately, with all the holiday hoopla comes an increase in consumer scams as well. Sad, but true; and these scammers are looking to take advantage of the most wonderful time of the year by targeting people who may be more than a little distracted with the hustle and bustle of the holidays. In fact, according to research from iovation, a TransUnion company, research surrounding online retail in 2019 found a 29% increase in online retail fraud during the start of the holiday season. That’s some serious scamming! Today, we’re covering some of the most common consumer scams so you can more easily spot and avoid them as you navigate your way through holiday preparations.

Let’s dive in with examples of different scams you want to avoid while doing your holiday shopping. It’s important to be aware of what exactly these scams look like so you can more easily identify and side step sketchy scenarios. By staying “in the know,” you will be able to better protect your finances and personal information.

Seasons cheer and scammers – why scammers love the holiday season.

According to a study from F5, phishing and fraud start to ramp up starting in October and increase throughout the holiday season. Here are some scams that should go straight to the top of Santa’s naughty list: 

COVID-19 consumer scams: 

Yes, scammers will even take advantage of a global pandemic to perform their naughty tricks. Between the economic strain of COVID-19 and the holiday season’s stress, it’s a recipe for disaster if you’re not prepared! According to the Federal Trade Commission’s findings, there have been a total of 139,095 COVID-19 related fraud reports throughout 2020 – the highest being in online shopping. From fake advertisements of an early (and often expensive) vaccine to faux contact tracers trying to steal personal information, there’s a lot of fraudulent activity taking its cue from COVID-19. According to the Federal Communications Commission, some simple tips for skirting scammers are not responding to unknown calls or texts and not giving out information to organizations soliciting personal information or money over the phone.

Check fraud:

Check fraud is a common scam that can come in different flavors. According to LifeLock, 71% of businesses surveyed in 2015 experienced actual or attempted check fraud. Check fraud can look like receiving an unexpected check in the mail with a request to send a portion of the money to an unfamiliar source, theft of a check or entire checkbook, and even the creation of counterfeit checks using your bank information. Some simple ways to protect yourself are to regularly monitor your financial accounts for strange activity, protect your checks from theft, and not accept checks from individuals or organizations you aren’t expecting or familiar with. Need some additional tips for facing check fraud? Check out this article from U.S. News that shares some extra ideas.

Phishing:

Go fish! Did you know that scammers will “fish” for your personal information through fake emails or texts designed to trick you into disclosing private data to them? This process is called “phishing,” and examples include fake invoices, emails disguised to be from a company you know or trust, random offers for free cash or gifts, and suspicious activity notifications. A simple way to protect your information is to not respond to unknown or suspicious emails, texts, or phone calls. Call the source directly using a number from an independent source to check the legitimacy of the communication. It’s also important to set up multi-factor identification for your online accounts, make sure you have the most up-to-date software or security updates, and NEVER open attachments from an unfamiliar sender. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is – so it might be best to double-check that Target e-gift card you just received from “sw33pstakessc@mer@mail.net” before hitting the holiday shopping!

Online shopping scams:

COVID-19 has more people turning to online shopping than ever before. Coupled with an increased search for digital deals during the holidays, we all need to be more diligent about online shopping scams. Whether it’s a suspicious domain name, a deal too good to be true, or even just a sloppy website design, the scams are out there! It’s important to be vigilant with your virtual purchases because scams are designed to lure in consumers and steal either money or personal information via fake products or services. Good ways to avoid getting caught in a web of lies (see what we did there?) is to read reviews, keep an eye out for suspicious pricing or payment options, and double-check the site’s terms of service. That $20 “authentic” designer item you saw advertised on Facebook might seem like a steal, but instead, you might end up getting stolen from!

Fake charities: 

Especially during the season of giving, charity scams can be a tricky way to have your finances or personal information stolen. Even though we all want to be charitable, especially during the holiday time, we must ensure our money is actually doing good and not going to suspect sources. A simple way to avoid falling victim to fraudulent charities is to do your research before donating. Websites like Charity Navigator can help you investigate your cause before handing over your cash.

Gift card exchange:

Who doesn’t love the gift of gift cards?! Swiping your way into the holiday shopping season with gift cards either for yourself or others is a great way to manage your money and give the gift of shopping to others. But, gift card scams do exist – especially during the holidays! One gift card scam involves selling gift cards with no actual balance. People are sometimes also swindled into disclosing their gift card information over the phone or via email for fake purchases or empty threats from fraudsters identifying themselves as authority figures. The simplest ways to avoid gift card scams are to only buy gift cards through reputable vendors and never disclose your gift card information to anyone other than verified merchants and retailers. For additional ideas to avoid scams, check out this article from GiftCards.com about seven gift card scams and how to easily avoid them.


Feeling ready to deck the halls with holiday deals and swerve scammers? Let’s hope scamming your cousin out of the last piece of pumpkin pie will be the only swindling you face this holiday season!

Looking for more tips? Moneytree has additional financial guidance for you.

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