Beware of these 5 holiday scams

I know you must be very busy these days. You probably have a lot to do, like preparing food, visiting family and friends and shopping for gifts. Although it’s a fun and festive time of year, it can also be stressful.

And you know who loves to take advantage of that stress? Scammers. They are always looking for ways to trick you and steal your money or personal information. 

They have some sneaky tricks up their sleeves, especially around the holidays. That’s why I want to warn you about five of the most common scams you might encounter during this season.

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5 common money scams to watch out for

1. Package delivery scam

With the holiday season in full swing, the end-of-year sales have begun and you probably have already started your holiday shopping and are expecting packages coming via different types of delivery services like FedEx, UPS or USPS. So, if you receive a text that mentions a package delivery, you may be likely to easily fall for a scam.

I was expecting a package recently and received this text out of the blue:

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Package delivery scam text. (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

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Even though the text says the sender is not in my contact list and that it may be junk, I almost clicked the link because I was so focused on the fact that there may have been a typo in my delivery address. But once I looked a little closer, there were a few red flags in this text message that tipped me off to it being a scam.

  • First — the link does not lead you to usps.com — it’s a fake link that scammers hope you won’t notice.  Notice it is uspsts.top…and not usps.com.  This is a common scam going around called typosquatting, where a scammer uses a domain that looks close to a real website. Next, the text says “pls” which is lingo you likely wouldn’t see in correspondence from the USPS. Scammers often make typos or use poor grammar when communicating, so always double-check.
  • Scammers are sending emails, texts and, even occasionally, there could be a phone call regarding an issue with package delivery. It may be something like this text I received that has a link where they’ll end up asking for information, or you may be asked to pay a “shipping fee” to get your package.
  • Be sure to always have good antivirus software running on your devices to prevent any disasters from happening if you were to click on a malicious link. See the best 2023 antivirus protection winners for your Windows, Mac, Android & iOS devices.

How to avoid package delivery scams

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If you are expecting a package and you’re wondering if you’ve received real information or not about it, the best way to check is to go to the original confirmation you received about shipping. You most likely received an email regarding your package, and if you go to that email to get your order number, you should be able to look up the status of your order directly on any website.

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A woman shops on her laptop. (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson )

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2. Charity scams

Sadly, charity scams aren’t new, but they are way more prevalent during the holiday season since scammers are hoping you’re feeling more generous during this time of year.

Sometimes scammers may create fake names of organizations to get you to donate money, or they may reach out to you via phone/email/text, posing as someone working for a legitimate charity. Social media has also become a popular place for charities to market themselves to reach more eyes in hopes of donations, so scammers may try and pose about fake charities.

These schemes will try and appeal to your emotions during this season, so be sure to double-check where you donate your money so you don’t fall for a scam.

How to avoid charity scams

Never give your money to anyone immediately who approaches you or reaches out on behalf of any organization without doing your own independent research. Either do a little googling or check with a family member to see if it’s real, and if it is, you should be able to donate on an official website or to an official address. You can always mention this to anyone who asks you to donate somewhere — don’t fall into the pressure of donating right then and there.

Also, always double-check the name of an organization. Sometimes (especially online), scammers will alter the name of a known organization slightly to trick you into donating.

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3. Social media gift exchange scam

The Better Business Bureau is warning about a gift exchange scam with a new twist, which has been occurring during recent holiday seasons. It’s an online version of the popular “Secret Santa” gift exchange. However, the BBB says these social media-driven gift exchanges are actually pyramid schemes, and you will most likely be disappointed if you participate.

In the past few years, variations of the gift exchange have popped up, with someone asking you to select a random person and send them a gift to pay it forward. Another asks you to exchange bottles of wine with someone else, and while it seems fun and light-hearted, you don’t know who is on the receiving end.

How to avoid social media gift exchange scams

It may sound nice to send a holiday gift to a stranger in turn for receiving multiple gifts yourself, but you’re never going to receive many (if any) gifts at all. Don’t participate in gift exchanges with anyone you don’t know, or you won’t be able to guarantee you’ll actually be gifting someone who isn’t a scammer.

4. Gift card scams

Gift card scams are another popular method that has been rising in popularity recently, but it’s especially important to watch out for the possibilities since you may be purchasing gift cards for friends or family for the holidays.

Scammers often steal gift cards and use the information before they make it look like they didn’t. They have a number of methods for tricking you using gift cards, so if you can send an online one (so that you can ensure you’ve purchased it on a legitimate, official website), that would be a much safer alternative.

How to avoid gift card scams

If you’re getting anyone a gift card and buying it in person, be sure to check that the package hasn’t been tampered with. Double-check that nothing on the packaging looks suspicious since scammers will try and make it seem like the package was sealed, but they will already have used the gift card so you’re essentially buying a useless piece of plastic.

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5. Fake online shopping sites scam

One of the most common scams during the holiday season is the fake online shopping site scam. Scammers create websites that look like legitimate online stores but are actually designed to steal your personal and financial information. They may offer products at very low prices or claim to have limited-time deals or exclusive items. They may also send you phishing emails or text messages with links to these fake sites.

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A woman uses her credit card while shopping online. (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

Some signs of a fake online shopping site are:

  • The website address does not match the name of the store or brand.
  • The website has poor design, spelling and grammar errors.
  • The website does not have a secure connection (https) or a padlock icon in the address bar.
  • The website asks for too much personal information, such as your social security number or bank account details.
  • The website does not have a clear return policy, contact information or customer reviews.

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To avoid falling victim to this scam, you should:

  • Shop only from trusted and reputable online stores that you know and have used before.
  • Check the website address carefully and look for any red flags.
  • Do some research on the online store before making a purchase. Read customer reviews, look for ratings or search for complaints online.
  • Use a credit card or a secure payment service like PayPal when shopping online. Do not use debit cards, wire transfers or gift cards.
  • Keep track of your online purchases and monitor your bank statements for any unauthorized charges.

Kurt’s key takeaways

Scammers are always looking for new ways to take advantage of your generosity, trust and stress. But you can protect yourself and your loved ones by being vigilant, cautious and informed. Remember to always verify the source of any message, email or call that asks you for money or personal information. And if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

What are some of the most creative or unusual money scams you have ever heard of or encountered during the holiday season? Let us know by writing us at Cyberguy.com/Contact

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