Scam Watch: It’s Holiday Scam Season – Here’s How to Stay Safe

Its Holiday Scam Season, Heres How to Stay Safe
"Now then, little boy, what is your mommy's Social Security number, hmmm?" Photo by Mike Arney

October has come and gone, and our minds turn to the holidays. Thanksgiving dinner with the family around the table. Time to shop for Christmas or Hanukkah gifts for your loved ones.

While we’re making our lists and checking them twice, financial scammers are gearing up for their busiest time of the year. The holiday season abounds with opportunities to deceive and steal from people.

Alisa Bralove-Scherr, the Deputy Director for Maryland’s Consumer Protection Division, emphasizes that scams related to social media and online shopping are particularly common during this time. Scammers frequently create fake social media pages that appear to be affiliated with reputable businesses. These pages can include enticing advertisements or links that redirect users to counterfeit websites.

“It can absolutely be an ad, something that you click on that takes you to a website that is not the website for the company that you think you’re dealing with,” she said. “It can also just be some overseas company that has no intention of ever sending the product that you think you’re buying.”

During the first half of this year, the most frequently reported scams on social media were related to online shopping, Federal Trade Commission figures show.

“The holiday shopping season is a busy time for cyber criminals,” said Iskander Sanchez-Rola of online security firm Norton. “During the hustle of the holiday season, shoppers often fall victim to scams as they look for discounts on popular holiday gifts, make last-minute purchases, and overlook suspicious activity.”

With 97% of American citizens expecting to shop online, over 55% of consumers are concerned about falling victim to a shopping scam this holiday season. Overall consumer confidence in online shopping safety declined 72% this year (from 89% last year).

It’s important to know the warning signs of a holiday shopping scam.

Steer clear of holiday scams on social media

A lot of holiday financial scams start on social media. Here are some tips on staying safe:

  • Make your social media profiles more private. Adjust your privacy settings so fewer people can view what you share. Remember, the things you do on these sites are tracked, but you can control some of this by changing your settings.
  • Be cautious if a friend sends you a message about a great deal or says they’re in immediate need of money. Verify by calling them directly. If they’re asking for payment through cryptocurrency or wire transfers, it could be a scam. (If they’re desperate for payment via gift card, it’s almost certainly a scam.)
  • Do some research before making a purchase from a company. Look the company up online with the word “scam” or “complaint” to see if others have reported issues. Be aware of other common scams during the holiday season.

If you’re feeling a little lonely this holiday season, be extra alert! Take your time if someone new wants to befriend or romance you on social media. It’s best to proceed slowly and never give money to someone you’ve never met in real life.

Safer online shopping

To help you avoid a costly scam this holiday season, we’ve gathered some tips to stay safe when shopping online:

  • Never buy from unrecognized retailers
  • Check that websites are secure and start with https
  • If anything looks too good to be true, it probably is – never be afraid to walk away from a “once in a lifetime” offer
  • A virtual private network (VPN) can keep your personal and financial information safe when shopping online.

Don’t let those three letters spook you! VPNs are simple to set up and more user-friendly than ever. We recommend these:

  • NordVPN – Known for its user-friendly interface and one-click connect feature
  • ExpressVPN – Features a straightforward setup process and an easy-to-navigate interface
  • CyberGhost – Offers a simple layout and one-click connections to different servers based on usage such as streaming or browsing

Strong passwords will prevent you from getting your accounts hacked. To keep track of strong passwords (a different one for every website!), you’ll want a password manager. We recommend:

  • Bitwarden: A highly secure and open-source password manager. Its free tier allows you to use the password manager across an unlimited number of devices and device types (laptop, mobile, tablet etc.)
  • iCloud Keychain: Apple’s built-in password manager for iPhone and Mac devices – offers a Windows client and supports both Chrome and Edge browsers.

We hope this information helps you stay safe from financial scams this holiday season!

2023, Featured, scam watch