‘Tis the season for giving, and unfortunately, scammers see the holidays as a prime time for stealing your money or personal information. And with many people shopping for gifts online, it pays to be on the lookout for holiday scams and fraudulent websites.

To keep your holidays merry, bright, and safe, don’t let a crook lighten your wallet or steal your cheer. Read on to learn about 10 holiday shopping scams and how to avoid them.

Key Takeaways:

  • Aim to buy gifts from trusted retailers instead of lesser-known stores.
  • For an added layer of security, pay for gifts with a credit or debit card with fraud protection.
  • Don’t share personal or financial information with anyone online, over the phone, or through email. Trustworthy companies won’t ask for your information.
  • If a sale or seasonal job sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Scam #1: Phishing Through Emails, Websites, or Social Media

Phishing scams prompt you to click on links and give up personal information such as your name, password, and bank account number. And in some cases, you may unknowingly download viruses onto your device. Many phishers pose as legitimate companies, so be especially wary if a company asks you to update your password or account information out of the blue.

Here’s how you can avoid getting caught by holiday phishing scams:

  • Be aware of phishing emails that are designed to look like an authentic message from a well-known brand.
  • Don’t click on links or open attachments in unsolicited emails.
  • Don’t provide sensitive information through email or over the phone. Legitimate providers won’t ask you to do that.
  • Keep your computer protected by making sure operating systems and antivirus protections are up to date.

Scam #2: Fraudulent Ads or Sellers on Social Media and in Search Results

Ads on social media can lead to fake sites that resemble a legitimate business. According to a report from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), one in four people who have been victims of financial scams since 2021 reported that they were scammed on social media. That amounts to a loss of $2.7 billion.

Scams can also occur when shoppers search online for customer service contact information. Ads in search results that appear to show a legitimate company’s customer service contact information can actually be a scammer’s attempt to get you to call them instead.

Be wary of online ads showing unbelievable sales because—you guessed it—they shouldn’t be trusted. Websites with misspelled words or grammatical errors should also raise a red flag.

To avoid getting scammed by fake ads and retailers, you should:

  • Know who you’re buying from. Do your homework on unfamiliar sellers.
  • Check online reviews.
  • Double-check that the websites you visit are secure and encrypted. You can confirm this by making sure the website’s URL begins with "https" instead of "http" and checking that there’s a padlock icon in the search bar at the top of the page.
  • Search the Better Business Bureau (BBB) website for complaints about the seller and consider buying from BBB-certified retailers.
  • Use a billing statement or other information directly from the seller to find legitimate customer service contact information.

Scam #3: Payment Scams

Shopping for gifts online may be easy and convenient, but it can also open the door to scammers looking to steal your hard-earned cash. Always double-check that the site you’re buying from is secure and legitimate. Don't send money to people you don't know. When in doubt, take your business elsewhere.

Here are some other ways to protect yourself from payment scams:

  • Never wire money directly to a seller.
  • Use a credit or debit card with zero fraud liability, like GLCU’s.
  • Check your card transactions regularly.
  • Peer-to-peer apps such as Zelle and Venmo are popular but don’t offer fraud protection. Stick to paying for items with your protected GLCU credit or debit card.

Scam #4: Fraudulent Charities

Charitable donations are a popular way to give back during the holiday season. Unfortunately, scammers are always looking to take advantage of your generosity. According to the BBB, scammers may impersonate someone in need or set up a fraudulent website for charitable donations.

Here’s how you can make sure your donations are going to a reputable organization:

Scam #5: Fake Holiday Jobs

Many people work seasonal jobs during the holidays to make some extra cash. However, as the BBB points out, not all seasonal jobs are legitimate. Scammers often post fake opportunities to lure you into sending them money or personal information.

According to the BBB, here’s how you can work to avoid holiday job scams:

  • Don’t accept job offers without an interview. It’s standard hiring procedure to have an interview for a job opportunity, so if the company you plan to work with skips the interview process, that's a red flag.
  • Avoid sending money to anyone as part of the hiring or training process.
  • Be skeptical about large offers of money for work, especially if the job is simple.

Scam #6: AI Scams

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) has given scammers yet another tool to use in their schemes. With the help of AI technology, scammers can use a family member's or friend's voice to trick you into sending them money over the phone, according to Celia Surridge, a BBB spokeswoman.

Here’s how you can avoid this scam, according to the FBI:

  • Only take calls from numbers you recognize.
  • Never provide sensitive information over the phone.
  • Verify the situation with others in your family or friend group before handing over any money.

Scam #7: Gift Card Scams

Gift card scams most commonly involve a scammer convincing a victim to buy gift cards for a fraudulent purpose. According to the BBB, gift card scams are on the rise, with 50% more people reporting them to the BBB this year than in 2022.

Gift card scammers may impersonate a customer service representative or government official and ask you to resolve a payment issue by purchasing gift cards and sharing the credentials. Sometimes, gift card fraud occurs when crooks tamper with gift cards on store racks and use the information to steal the funds.

Here’s how you can avoid gift card scams:

  • Don’t pay for unrelated items or services with gift cards, especially if someone asks you to. For example, if you’re buying a game console on Facebook Marketplace and the seller asks you to pay for it with Apple or Amazon gift cards (or a related retailer), walk away.
  • Never share your gift card credentials with anyone.
  • Buy digital gift cards online directly from an issuer, such as a retailer or restaurant.
  • Purchase gift cards from a reputable source. The Retail Gift Card Association recommends only buying gift cards from brands and websites you trust, especially when shopping online.
  • Before buying a gift card in-store, make sure that the PIN hasn't been revealed. If the gift card’s packaging is damaged, that's also a red flag. Alert store employees if a gift card appears damaged.
  • Always store digital gift cards in an online account or mobile wallet.

Scam #8: Stolen Packages and Fraudulent Shipping Notifications

Stolen package scams occur when packages are taken after delivery, usually from a front porch or entrance area. A related scam can happen when scammers send fake shipping notifications to get you to disclose payment or sensitive personal information.

To safeguard your packages, identity, and wallet, you should:

  • Always get tracking numbers for items you buy online so you can make sure they’ve been shipped. That way, you can follow the shipping process and know when the package has been delivered.
  • Visit the retailer or shipping company website to track packages. Be wary of unsolicited texts or emails containing tracking information.
  • Arrange to have packages delivered to a trusted neighbor or held at the shipper’s local distribution center if you cannot pick them up immediately.

Scam #9: Fake Gift Exchanges and Social Media Giveaways

Gift exchanges or giveaways on social media appear to spread holiday cheer but may spread fraud instead. According to the BBB, these scams can start with an invitation to join a giveaway on social media.

These giveaways will ask you to invite others to the group and send gifts to people you’ve never met with the hope that you'll also receive a gift. It’s usually promised that you'll receive more gifts than you send. However, these groups are scams and pyramid schemes. 

Here are some tips from the BBB on how to avoid this scam:

  • Decline invitations to join these groups. Report them to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and to the social media site you’re using.
  • Don’t send money, items, or personal information to people you don’t know.
  • Don’t get involved with pyramid schemes. As the BBB points out, these schemes are illegal and don’t live up to their promises.

Scam #10: Travel Scams

The holiday season is a time for giving as well as traveling. So, if you plan on traveling for the holidays, be wary of scammers trying to ruin your plans and steal your money. According to the FTC, common travel scams include free vacations that aren’t actually free, fraudulent vacation home rentals, fake charter flights, or fraudulent vacation deals.

To avoid this scam, the FTC recommends that you:

  • Always do your research before booking accommodation, rentals, or flights.
  • Avoid paying for your trip with gift cards, cryptocurrency, or wire transfers.
  • Get recommendations from people and sources that you trust.

Keeping Your Holidays Merry, Bright, and Fraud-Free

By taking the time to research holiday shopping and travel scams, you will significantly improve your chances of having a happy and safe holiday season. And don’t forget…if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Happy Holidays from all of us at GLCU.

Learn more about protecting yourself from fraud and how GLCU can help.

« Back to Articles