Cyber santa figure typing on a keyboard.

Season’s Thievings: How to Spot and Avoid Holiday Shopping Scams

November 10, 2023 | Modified: November 17, 2023

The holiday season is upon us, and with it comes the joy of giving and the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping. However, an unfortunate Grinch lurks in the digital shadows alongside the festive cheer – holiday shopping scams. As the demand for online shopping surges during this time of year, so does the opportunistic behavior of cybercriminals looking to take advantage of unsuspecting shoppers. In this blog post, we’ll explore the latest tactics employed by these scammers, why holiday shopping scams are so prevalent, and, most importantly, how to safeguard yourself from falling victim to these digital grinches.

The Ascendance of Holiday Shopping Scams

Holiday shopping scams have become a grim tradition, exploiting consumers’ increased online activity and distracted mindset during the festive season. The reasons behind this surge are manifold. Firstly, the sheer volume of online transactions provides scammers with a vast pool of potential targets. With millions of people rushing to snag the best deals, cyber criminals can easily camouflage their malicious activities in the chaos.

Moreover, the emotional and time pressures of the holidays make individuals more susceptible to scams. The desire to find the perfect gift at the right price often leads people to click on enticing links or fall for too-good-to-be-true offers. Scammers capitalize on this sense of urgency and excitement, creating fake websites, email campaigns, and social media posts that mimic legitimate retailers.

Spotting a Bad Santa: Recognizing Signs to Avoid Holiday Shopping Scams

Sharpening your scam-spotting skills is crucial to avoid falling victim to holiday shopping scams. Here are five red flags to watch out for:

  1. Deceptive Deals on Holiday Gifts or Decor: Deals that seem too good to be true usually are. Scammers entice victims with unrealistically low prices on popular items, capitalizing on the desire to snag a bargain without due diligence. A current holiday scam involves holiday decorations. Scam social media ads are enticing shoppers with photos of fabulous holiday décor. What arrives is nothing like the product advertised.  
  2. Unsolicited Outreach: Approach unsolicited emails or text messages cautiously, especially those promising exclusive deals or discounts. Legitimate retailers primarily communicate through official channels, and unexpected messages may be attempts to trick you.
  3. Phishing Ploys: Before making any purchases, scrutinize the website’s URL. Scammers frequently create counterfeit websites with URLs resembling legitimate retailers, relying on slight misspellings or variations. Always ensure the website uses “https://” for secure transactions.
  4. Time Pressure Tactics: Avoid pressure tactics claiming limited stock or fleeting special offers. Taking a step back to verify the legitimacy of an offer is crucial before succumbing to time-induced decisions.
  5. Fake Shipping Notifications: Phishing emails and texts posing as a delivery company are at an all-time high. They may contain a “tracking link” that takes you to a form that asks for personal and financial information or may even download malware onto your device.  

Safeguarding Yourself from Holiday Shopping Scams

Armed with knowledge on how to identify potential scams, let’s explore proactive measures to protect yourself during this holiday shopping season:

  • Opt for Reputable Platforms: Stick to well-known and reputable online retailers. Research unfamiliar websites and read reviews from other shoppers before making a purchase.
  • Use Secure Payment Methods: Use secure and trusted payment methods to make online transactions. Avoid entering credit card information on unfamiliar or unsecured websites.
  • Keep Software Updated: Regularly update your devices and software to ensure the latest security patches are in place. Cybercriminals often exploit vulnerabilities in outdated systems.
  • Implement Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Enhance your security by enabling 2FA, adding an extra layer that significantly reduces the risk of unauthorized access to your accounts.
  • Exercise Skepticism in Communication: Practice caution with emails and messages. Refrain from clicking on links or downloading attachments from unsolicited communications. Instead, visit the official website directly by manually typing the URL into your browser.
  • Use Your Credit Card: When making an online purchase, use your credit card rather than a debit or gift card. Most credit card companies allow you to dispute fraudulent charges. Sellers requesting payment through methods such as gift cards or payment apps are a telltale sign of a scam. 
  • Reviews and Ratings: Before purchasing from an unfamiliar online store, delve into reviews and ratings. A lack of online presence or negative reviews should serve as a warning sign.
  • Track Delivery: Keep track of what you have ordered and track delivery from the official site of the delivery carrier or through official retail tracking tools. Be alert for delivery “Phishing” attempts.

Caught by a Bad Santa? What to Do If You’re a Victim of a Holiday Shopping Scam

If, despite your best efforts, you find yourself ensnared by a holiday shopping scam, take immediate action:

  1. Contact Your Financial Institution: Promptly report any unauthorized transactions to your credit union or credit card company. They can guide you through disputing the charge and securing your account.
  2. Password Management: If personal information is compromised, change your passwords immediately. This includes passwords for email, credit union accounts, and other online platforms.
  3. File a Complaint: Lodge a complaint with your country’s consumer protection agency. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the appropriate channel for reporting scams in the United States. Visit the FTC site to report fraud. You should also report scams online on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Scam Tracker.  
  4. Continuous Monitoring: Regularly scrutinize your credit union and credit card statements for any signs of suspicious activity. Early detection is pivotal in minimizing potential damage. 

Stay Alert to Avoid Holiday Shopping Scams

By staying vigilant and following our tips, you can outsmart the digital Grinches and ensure a safe and secure holiday shopping experience. This season, let the joy of giving be untarnished by the scams that lurk in the shadows. Happy and secure holiday shopping!

Read Additional Scam Prevention Resources

Tap to report a lost or stolen Benchmark FCU credit or debit card. 

Read our Benchmark Blog Article, “Understanding Brushing Scams: USPS Issues a Warning.” 

Protect your family by being aware of AI voice scams in our Benchmark Blog Article, “Safe and Sound: Shield Your Family from AI Voice Technology Scams.” 

Tap to read Benchmark FCUs Identity Theft Procedures.

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