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Seasonal Scams – During the Holidays & Beyond

Seasonal Scams – During the Holidays & Beyond


Seasonal Scams – During the Holidays & Beyond

It’s that time of year when things should be oh, so jolly. Though the holiday season might start that way, it can quickly escalate to a stomach-dropping feeling of fear, because your identity or financial information has been compromised.

There are several seasonal scams we like to remind members of during this time of the year. Being informed, staying aware, and remaining vigilant could be the difference when it comes to spending your holiday money on gifts, rather than your money falling into the hands of some serious Scrooge’s.


Phishing Emails or Texts

Most of these scams are phishing scams, meaning it’s a message that is made to look legit but has a hook or implies urgency that makes you take action.

Though Phishing Scams happen all year round, during the holiday season they may be tailored with holiday-related verbiage. They may come in different forms from scaring you that your shopping accounts have been disabled or that you’re a request to personalize a letter to ‘Santa’. Be extra careful when it comes to clicking and sort of link, opening an attachment or sharing your personal or financial information.


Package Tracking or Order Confirmation Scams

Do any of us go a week or more without having a delivery coming anymore? That is why scammers have refined one of their most used tactics in the form of package tracking or delivery notification.

These messages look like they’re from a legitimate mail or package courier, such as the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, Amazon, etc. and include a fake tracking link. Most of the time these are just the vehicle for these fraudsters to hack into your device with malware if you click the link. Malware is software designed to gain unauthorized access, to your phone or computer. The malware will then start stealing your information.

If a package delivery scam takes the form of a voicemail message, it may prompt you to call a number back about your delivery. If you call the number back (which we advise you not to) these scammers may request money in return to deliver a package, such as a customs fee or tax.

Remember the best practice to track delivery for holiday packages is to go directly to your online shopping account, they always provide shipment updates and tracking numbers to the legitimate carrier website. Also, never pay someone money for the delivery of your package, you’ve already paid when you made your purchase!


Account Issue Scams

Any normal person hates to be inconvenienced, right? That’s why scammers target consumers with the threat that their account(s) has been deactivated, or that there is some kind of issue with their account. Typically, that means messages of something you use a lot around this time of year such as Amazon, PayPal, etc.

Most consumers don’t think before they click, they are caught off guard and think, ‘Well of course I don’t want there to be an issue with my account.’

But again, as soon as you click the link, your device will likely be compromised and there was probably nothing wrong with your account. Never click these links, it’s best to always go directly to your account to check on it that way.


Spoofed Shopping Sites

Scammers know that seasonal shopping means looking for big bargains. To prey on consumers’ needs, fraudsters may set up fake websites and social media posts that imitate major brands to get you to click on their ad or website. These “spoofed” sites, entice you to spend money on products you’ll never receive.

Not to mention, it’s a way for them to harvest your credit or debit card numbers and any other personal information you input (such as your name, address, phone number, email, or password, etc). They do this so they can continue to use your information to commit identity theft or sell on the dark web.


Gift Card Scams

If someone is asking to pay for something by putting money on a gift card and then giving them the numbers on the back of the card, or mailing it to them – this is an immediate red flag and identifier for you to know it’s a scam.

No real business or government agency will ever insist you pay them with a gift card. Anyone who demands to be paid with a gift card is a scammer, plain and simple.


Charity Scams

If you’re in the spirit of giving this holiday season, double-check that you’re giving to a real charity, and a good cause, not a scammer! Scammers know that charities reach out during this time of year for support, which means every year they try to trick people into giving to them, instead.

Here are a few tips which deciding who to give to:

  • Check out the charity before you donate. Search online with the name of the charity plus words like “complaint,” “review,” or “scam.”
  • Double-check the name. Scammers sometimes use names that sound like real charities that you know and trust. 
  • Don’t be rushed. Scammers love to prey on pressure and to act fast. A real charity won’t pressure you.

Avoid donations by cash, gift card, cryptocurrency, or money transfer service — That’s how scammers ask to be paid.


Too Good To Be True Discounts

It’s common thinking that if a deal is too good to be true, it probably is. Listen to your gut; if something doesn’t feel right when you see a deal or discount on a website, it’s likely to be a scammer phishing attempt.


Travel Scams

Fraudsters know that millions of people travel during the holidays, so of course, some of their attempts will include travel scams! Here are some tips to stay safe when planning your (any time of the year) vacations:

  • Nothing is ever free. If you see ‘Free Vacations’, know that it won’t actually be free. You’ll quickly learn that there are likely hidden costs, fees, and taxes or they’re just mining the information you input.
  • Vacation homesdo they actually exist? For anyone planning on renting a place for vacation, it’s best to go to a legitimate website. Scammers can put out an ad just like anyone else claiming a fantastic vacation home, but when you get there, you find out the place doesn’t exist, so there’s no place to stay and your money is gone. It’s a good idea to always check Google maps when renting a home if you are not using a trusted booking website.
  • Paying for a vacation rental by wire, gift card or cryptocurrency is a HUGE red flag. This is typically how scammers ask consumers to pay because once they’ve collected the money, it’s almost impossible to get it back.
  • Never be pressured to book something immediately.
  • Do your research. Look up your rentals and/or agents with the words “scam,” “review,” or “complaint.” See what others say about them before you commit. And remember, check that the address of the property really exists.
  • Premium spots advertised for super cheap prices are, again, likely too good to be true.


Romance Scams

Simply put, don’t let the blues of being alone that can come with the holiday season get your guard down. Scammers know that the holidays bring searches for love to the forefront and they prey on those who are looking for companionship.

We see a lot of these scams happening on social media and online dating websites. Scammers will play the long game in this scam, developing a relationship of conversation back and forth, but at some point, the conversation always turns to money. They’re down on their luck, they have a sick relative, and they need money to come to visit/meet you. Don’t fall for it. We’ve seen members get scammed out of thousands of dollars, never to be seen again, and the person they think is on the other end, is actually a scammer, portrayed as a caring person.


Red Flags to watch for:

  • Spelling errors or odd language and bad grammar
  • Urgency in the message
  • Huge discounts (especially on social media or unfamiliar websites)
  • Being asked to send gift cards or cryptocurrency

General Best Practices

To help avoid scams, we have put together a general list of best practices. If you follow these rules and identify tactics, you will likely be able to save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, by not falling victim to a scammer.

  • Remember, scammers may circulate malware-loaded messages in the form of links or attachments and fake websites. ALWAYS go directly to your account through the legitimate website or app to check on account issues, confirmation of orders, and tracking numbers. 
  • Hover your mouse over links in emails and social media ads to display the true destination URL, you likely will be able to recognize a real URL versus a fake.
  • Be wary of giving out too much personal or financial information.
  • Pay by credit card. That way you can dispute charges and limit the damage if it turns out you were scammed. NEVER via gift card or cryptocurrency.
  • Research! From charities, to travel, and more. Search for names of people and/or companies that you want to work with and include terms like “scam,” “complaints” or “reviews,” and see what others are saying.
  • Don’t assume a website is safe because it shows signs of encryption, like a padlock icon or “https://” in front of the URL. Many scam sites now use this technology, knowing that fraud-savvy consumers look for it.
  • Don’t make a purchase, donate to a charity or conduct other financial business online while using a public Wi-Fi network. It might not be secure.
  • Remember if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

If You’ve Been Scammed

  • Call your credit card company or your financial institution. Dispute any suspicious charges.
  • Contact local law enforcement.
  • Report the scam!
    • You can report to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at
    • or the Federal Trade Commission – here are more details on what to do if you were scammed.  

Want to learn more about these scams? Check out the links below from articles by the Federal Trade Commission, and videos from yours truly, CSE, that go into more depth on these topics.


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