Fight Back Against Holiday Scams

October 25, 2023

      It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holidays and let your guard down when it comes to fraud. But while you’re shopping and celebrating, thieves are looking for ways to access your money or financial information.

      Fraud Fast Facts

      According to the Federal Trade Commission, consumer losses for 2022 soared to $8.8 billion, an increase of 30% from 2021. And fraud is hitting all demographics. For instance, a growing trend shows Gen Z adults (20-29) are getting scammed more often than older adults. Cryptocurrency scams led the pack in fraudulent activity, costing consumers over $3.8 billion.

      Here are some top holiday scams to keep your holiday joy – and money.

      Cryptocurrency Scams

      Cryptocurrency is digital currency consumers buy as an investment or to purchase things. Cryptocurrency doesn't require financial institutions to verify transactions, so fraudsters use this to steal money or financial information.

      Scams come in various forms. A top one is pressuring you to invest in a new type of crypto where you can make a lot of money before you have time to determine if it’s legitimate or not. Another scam is to use phishing or other fraudulent methods to access a user’s crypto or digital wallet and credentials. Whether it’s a company saying you’re behind on payments or a sweepstakes you’ve won big, the end game is simply fraud.

      Keep in mind no legitimate business or government agency will ever text, email, call or contact you via social media to demand payment for something, whatever that something may be. And they certainly won’t ask for payment using cryptocurrency.

      Impersonation Scams

      Impersonation scams rely on impersonating practically anybody you can think of, friends, family, financial institutions, the IRS, sheriff’s department, charities. They’ll contact you via emails, texts, and phone calls, including using AI voice cloning.

      They’ll often spoof familiar phone numbers, so you’ll assume they’re coming from a legitimate source. While the scams vary, they rely on creating a sense of urgency to get you to hand over sensitive financial data or money. Don’t fall for it.

      How to protect yourself from Cryptocurrency and Impersonation Scams:

      • Verify independently whether companies or individuals are trying to contact you, even if you recognize a phone number. Fraudsters spoof these numbers.
      • Never give out passwords or other personal information to anyone.
      • Delete emails or SMS texts instructing you to click hyperlinks. Malicious links could download malware to your device.
      • Don’t trust unexpected calls about fraudulent activity. Contact the fraud department on a company’s website for more information.

      Gift Card Scams

      It’s hard to believe people fall for this scam when you stop and think about it logically. Like other scams, they rely on urgency to get you to respond to their varied requests.

      The scammer will ask you to buy gift cards at major merchants or Google or ApplePay. Then they’ll ask for the gift card numbers and PINs. When you do this, they can access the funds, even if you have the cards in your possession. They may even ask you to deposit a check for them greater than the amount requested and ask you to pay back the difference on a gift card.  Keep in mind, if they ask for the numbers off the back of the card, this is clearly a scam.

      How to protect yourself:

      • First, think logically. Why would the IRS, your bank, or a family member ask you to buy gift cards to pay them?
      • Report the scam to the gift card issuer and ask for your money back. Some may help, some may not, but it’s always worth asking.

      Charity Scams

      During the holidays, it’s natural to want to give, and that’s what scammers count on. Crooks hope you’ll donate to their fake nonprofits promising to feed, clothe and provide support to those in need.  Like other scams, they pressure you to act immediately – providing funds in the form of gift cards, cryptocurrency, wire transfers or even cash.

      How to protect yourself:

      • The red flag is asking for the forms of payment, such as gift cards, cryptocurrency or wire transfers. Charities don’t work like this.
      • Before you give to any charity, visit the California Registry of Charitable Trusts to see if it’s legitimate.

      The Santa Scam

      A time-honored tradition for children is sending letters to Santa. The Greetings from Santa program is a real service provided by the United States Postal Service. Sadly, scammers pretend to offer similar letters so they can collect and sell your personal information and will attempt to charge you for it.

      How to protect yourself:

      • Ignore unsolicited emails and don’t click on hyperlinks asking you to pay for the service.
      • Search the Better Business Bureau website for complaints about the service.

      Package Delivery Scams

      As more people use delivery services during the holidays to ensure presents arrive before Christmas day, scammers are ramping up their efforts to deceive households with phony missed delivery notifications. Victims of this scam report receiving an email or text message informing them they missed a delivery from one of the major shipping companies. In this dishonest initiative, when you click the link provided in the email or text it leads to what is later determined to be a phony webpage that requires credit card or banking details to be entered in order to reschedule the delivery.

      How to protect yourself:

      The package scam can be hard to detect since links to fake websites usually include stolen logos and other information found on the real websites. If you receive an unexpected notification, visit the shipping company’s official website. Each one has a webpage dedicated to helping consumers determine whether a notification is phony and what you can do about it.

      Phishing Scams

      Phishing is the act of sending an email to a user falsely claiming to be an established legitimate enterprise in an attempt to scam the user into surrendering private information that will be used for identity theft. The requested information is most often credit card numbers, but it can also be credit union or bank account information, Social Security numbers, passwords, or other sensitive data. The email often attributes the need for verification of data, due to security concerns, to create a sense of urgency in responding. Be particularly cautious if the email contains an embedded link for you to access the site in order to update your information.

      How to protect yourself:

      If you receive an unexpected email from a company or a government agency asking for your personal or financial information, contact the company or the agency cited in the email using a telephone number that you know to be genuine, or type in the web address that you know to be correct to verify the information contained in the email. Avoid emailing personal and financial information, as this is not a secure method of transmitting information.

      Help fight fraud by reporting fraud to the Federal Trade Commission.