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The 12 Scams of Holidays Past

‘Tis the season for holiday spending: According to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, 56% of holiday shoppers plan to do part of their shopping online this year. Scammers are surely eager to take advantage of this uptick in online shopping, and while their schemes often cause them to appear as “Santa’s little helpers”, they are actually “grinches” in disguise.  Luckily, these cybercriminals tend to use the same tricks every year, so we’ve rounded up the top 12 scams of holidays past for you to be on the lookout for.

1. Malicious E-Cards

This time of year is a popular time to spread holiday cheer via greeting cards. Malware can easily be hidden in e-card platforms and can also contain links that lead to phishing websites. Legitimate e-cards will usually be embedded in the email for ease of viewing, so if you receive an e-card that requires you to click a link or download additional software in order to view the card, don’t do it- it’s a scam! Be especially cautious if the card is from a sender you’re not familiar with.

2. Fake Websites That Offer Unrealistic Low Prices

Just because a retailer pops up in an Internet search or advertises a fake Rolex for $99, doesn’t mean that is it legitimate. Criminals can advertise things, too. Verify the legitimacy of a website by searching the Better Business Bureau’s website for the company and run the organization’s name through a search engine for user reviews. Never trust user reviews that are posted on the website directly, as these can be added by the criminal that created the website.

3. Fake Letters From Santa

Scammers will try to scam you out of your cash by offering products that don’t exist. A popular form of this trick is an offering of a personalized letter from Santa to your child. In reality, these types of sites are trying to gain your personal information or steal some cash from your credit card, and in the end, you may not even receive the product. Your best bet is to just make one yourself. Not only will it be fun, but a hand-written letter will seem more authentic to your child, anyway.

4. Counterfeit Retailer Websites

Scammers will try to trick you out of your money and information by copying popular retailers’ websites. These counterfeit versions are easy to spot as long as you are paying attention to the details. First and foremost, examine the URL of the website in the address bar of your browser. Popular retailers’ website addresses are very well known, and if you’re not sure of the validity of a certain web address, use a search engine look for the retailer’s name for the correct address. Be on the lookout for typos and oddly phrased sentences, as well as poor image quality and offset images on the webpage.

5. Suspicious Social Media Scams

If the offer sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. If you see messages from friends about about free gift cards, large cash offerings for taking holiday surveys or popular gifts listed at an unreasonably low amount, chances are they have been hacked and it is probably a scam. Most of these scams host shortened URLs that can lead to malicious websites that may contain malware, or contain a form to fill out asking for your personal information in order to claim the deal. In addition to suspicious posting from friends, be wary of holiday specific apps as these can access your profile and steal your personal data. Do not click on unfamiliar links and do not download anything in order to view the content offered.

6. Charity Related Holiday Scams

The holiday season is the time for giving, and is a popular time for donating to charities. Scammers view this as a prime way to take advantage of your generosity. Be especially cautious when receiving emails or text messages unsolicited to give donations. If you’re giving to a charity this year, do some research on it beforehand. You can verify a charity on sites such as Give.org and Charitynavigator.org.

7. Holiday Software

People are in the holiday spirit, and love to deck their technology with seasonal screensavers, wallpapers and holiday apps. However, this software is a popular delivery method for malware. Only download this software from trusted websites, or app stores such as Google Play and iTunes App Store. You can also protect yourself by adding security software to your computer and mobile devices such as Norton Security, which will detect malware before it can infect your device.

8. Holiday SMS Scams

Getting a text message from someone you do not know is suspicious in itself, but if the message is relaying a notification that you have won a prize, a great deal regarding merchandise, notifications about an application needing an update, or is asking you for personal information, beware. Retailers tend not to advertise via text messages. Applications provide updates through the app store or the app itself, and financial institutions will never ask you to send them your personal information via text message (or email, or phone call, for that matter).

9. Holiday Loan Scams

With the holiday season comes extra spending outside of the normal household budget, and money can get tight for some. Scammers view this as an opportunity to try and trick you out of your personal information and even your cash. If an unsolicited loan offer via email, text or even phone calls is asking for any upfront fees or offering ridiculously low interest rates, this is a red flag. If you are in need of a loan, research the company you’re interested in getting the loan from. There should be an easily obtainable physical address and phone number online as well as reviews of the company via search engine searches.

10. Holiday Phishing Scams

These scams can come in all shapes and sizes. Notifications that you’ve won a prize, fake shipping emails asking for shipping fees and emails from well-known retailers stating that there is a problem with your order.  Usually these emails are directing you to a site that spoofs a legitimate website, asking you to sign in with your credentials. In the case of the shipping emails, they are trying to gain your credit card information and other personal details. If you fear there is a really issue with one of your orders, go to the company’s website by directly typing in the URL in your browser’s address bar.

11. Discounted Gift Card Scams

This also falls under the “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is” category. Beware of scammers passing off used, or fake gift cards. Sometimes the value of the gift card is exaggerated- a 100 dollar gift card in reality may only have 20 dollars on it, sometimes it has been purchased by using a stolen credit card, or sometimes there is no card at all- just a website asking you to fill out personal information in order to receive the card. If you’re actually interested in purchasing a gift card, your best bet is to order it online from the seller’s official website, or purchase it from behind the counter of the brick and mortar store.

12. Travel Scams

The holiday season is the busiest travel time of the year, and cyber criminals are using this opportunity to trick you into giving up your credit card numbers and other private information. Scammers will send out emails that can appear to be from a hotel or airline claiming that incorrect charges were charged to your credit card, and that you need to fill out a form in order to get a refund. That form usually contains malware or can lead you to a phishing site designed to collect your personal information in order to attempt identity theft. If truly in doubt, call your airline or hotel directly to verify if there is an issue. Scammers can also send out emails offering great deals on travel or accommodations, but will ask for a fee via wire transfer instead of a credit card. Clearly, it’s a trick.

So while the season is filled with scammers, you don’t have to fall victim to their ploys as long as you are alert and aware of whom you’re giving your money and information to. Outsmart this season’s grinches that are trying to take away your holiday cheer by heeding the advice in this article, and safely shop ‘til you drop, from the comfort of your home.