It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of year, but unfortunately online scammers always rear their ugly heads around the holidays, trying to take advantage of people’s good cheer. In order to make sure the only money you part with goes towards gifts for loved ones and good causes, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most popular online scams that tend to roll around every holiday season.
5 Holiday Scams to Watch Out For
1. Hot Deal Scams
It could come via email or text, but this time of year scammers are notorious for sending messages designed to look like they're from a legitimate retailer offering deep discounts on the year’s hottest toys, gadgets, and data plans. Often, these messages will have a sense of urgency (or even a countdown clock) to pressure the recipient into clicking before it’s too late. But beware: Many links are bogus and install malicious software onto your computer or device, which record your username and password, or collect credit card information you supply to get the offer. Instead of clicking, go to the retailer's site directly to see if the money-saving offer is there; if it’s not, there’s a good chance the link is illegitimate. A good rule of thumb is to never open an email or text from a sender you don't know, and do not click on those links!
2. Charity Scams
The holidays are a time for giving and when people are most likely to open their wallets to donate to those less fortunate. As a result, some scammers will take advantage and create knockoff websites made to mimic real charities, or they'll make one up and design a quick website to collect personal information or obtain money. The best way to avoid being suckered into a fake charity scam is to go directly to a known charity's website to donate. If you’re tempted to give to a charity you’re unfamiliar with, do your due diligence and research them online first. Also, some charity scams will call your home or cell asking for donations. Just to be safe, let them know that you'll be visiting their site online to donate rather than provide them with your credit card information over the phone. If it’s a charity you’re unfamiliar with, ask them to mail you a brochure; if they’re fraudsters, they’ll probably hang up.
3. Facebook Page Scams
Facebook usage spikes during the holidays as people look to connect with family and friends to celebrate the season. That makes the yuletide the perfect time for scammers to deploy their fake Facebook pages to entice unsuspecting users to part with their credit card information in exchange for can't-miss deals. It’s easy enough; all they need to do is copy a corporate logo and drum up an offer juicy enough that you’ll spill your personal information. (Travel scams are particularly popular, such as an airline offering $69 flights to all their destinations.) While they know many people might not click on the offer, they're counting on people sharing the “deal” with their friends, thereby increasing their chances of duping someone. (We're more likely to trust a deal and believe it's legitimate if it's shared by a friend.) The scam’s intent, like many, is to simply steal your personal information. As with most scams, it’s best to visit the company’s corporate website, or even contact them via phone. Their operators will likely know about any special offers and will be able to confirm or deny any deals you heard of or seen.
4. Shipping Notification Scams
During the holidays, many people send and receive packages, so much so that sometimes we forget about purchases we've made, especially if there's been a significant delay. That’s why fake shipping notifications are so prevalent this time of year. The way it works is you’ll receive an email or text from a package handler, often with a subject line like, “FedEx: Sorry we missed you!” or “Claim your package”. But once you click the link, your computer or device is infected with a virus that collects personal data; in other instances, the link works and instructs you to plug in your confirmation number. Scammers then use this number to have your shipment redirected to another location where they can receive your delivery. These are known as “phishing scams” and you can learn more about these and other types of scams by visiting the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre.
5. Puppy Scams
It's a whole new low when scammers involve puppies in their scams. Today, many parents search for their child’s next pet online, just as they would for toys, and cyber criminals know this. So they’ll list a “free puppy for a loving home” along with adorable photos of said puppy. When a person interested in the puppy contacts the scammer, they'll say they live way out of town, and after a few more trust-building exchanges, the scammer offers to ship the puppy to potential new parents, as long as they wire them the money for shipping. Once the “seller” has the funds, they disappear along with the money, all the while there was never really a puppy to begin with. Although you can use Google image search to see if a pet photo is from a stock image site or appears elsewhere online, it’s best to simply pick up a puppy or another pet from a local shelter. There are thousands in need of good homes right in your area.
There you have it, five scams to watch out for this holiday season. But of course, there are many more out there, and many variations of these. It’s always best to go directly to the source whenever possible to confirm deals, notifications, and other offers, and remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
This holiday season, be sure you don’t break your holiday budget on bogus offers. Stay wary to keep merry!