Top 2023 Online Holiday Scams

Top 2023 Online Holiday Scams

As we approach the winter holiday season, the time for holiday shopping deals commences. Some of us are looking forward to bouncing from store to store in our local shopping center looking for the perfect present or best deals. Others love the thrill of lining up outside of our favorite big box store, preparing to compete with our fellow shoppers for the chance to get discounted home electronics and other “doorbusters”. But, even more of us will be just as happy to be in the comfort and safety of our homes, watching our favorite streaming service on one screen as we shop on another. 

While online shopping can certainly seem more convenient and less physically strenuous than fighting the crowds on Black Friday, it can still come with risks. You may happily avoid the potential craziness that can come with in-store shopping, but scammers and cybercriminals will be active and shopping for a way to try and capitalize on our increased online activity. 

Holiday Scams Come in Many Forms—From Fraudulent Ads and Emails to Unsolicited Calls and Texts

Fraudsters frequently take advantage of the holidays to push themed scams through online ads, misleading calls, phishing emails, and text messages. The worst part? These scams are often carefully crafted and branded to look like they came from a legitimate retailer or other organization and are for a legitimate purpose. So, to help you better avoid getting taken by a fraudster online and only getting a lump of coal this year, we have put together a cheat sheet of some of the common holiday scams to try to avoid as you shop for deals online.

Social Media Marketplace Scams

Many of us are determined to get the best present for the best price.  Oftentimes, the lowest prices can be found on social media marketplaces, but sometimes so can some of the greatest risks.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the most frequently reported fraud loss in the first half of 2023 was from people who tried to buy something marketed on social media. Commonly included in these reports were complaints of undelivered goods, with no-show clothing and electronics topping the list. Often these scams start by simply clicking on an ad on your favorite social media platform.  If you see an ad for a screaming deal that could be too good to be true, if very much might be. Be on the look out for ads that call out a “limited time” or “last available” as they may be trying to create a false sense of urgency that could push you to act before you know what you are clicking on.  Play it safe in contacting unknown sellers and try to avoid giving them an abundance of personal information. Be sure to research their reviews, their company, and the products both in the social media platform and on your favorite search engine before clicking on links. 

Bogus Websites

Whether surfing for deals on social media or the web, some online shopping scams try to hook victims with a bogus website that mimics a trusted retailer, including the logo and slogan. Scammers may attempt to trick victims with a URL that is only slightly misspelled from that of a legitimate retailer or that uses .net or .co instead of .com.

Some fraudulent retailers actually deliver products, but they may be counterfeit. More often, the ordered product will never arrive, but the criminal will have captured your personal information.

Did you know… Nationally, for non-payment/non-delivery scams, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI’s) Internal Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received more than 51,679 complaints with losses over $281 million in 2022.

Package Delivery Problem Messages

Following up on the theme of delivery issues — there’s even another scam for that. Be on the lookout for unsolicited texts and emails pretending to be from delivery agents like the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, and UPS. They will tell you that there is a problem with your delivery and all you need to do to fix it is click on the link provided. They link to a website that looks real – but isn’t. It will say something along the lines of “If you put in your credit card information and pay a small redelivery fee, your package will be on its way.” This scam aims to get a hold of your credit card number and potentially additional personal information down the line. If you receive a message like this, especially unsolicited, we recommend going to the delivery vendor’s website to see if there is a legitimate issue. You probably do not want to click on the link included in the message.

Fake Vendor and Bank Texts

Like the fake delivery texts above, you may also get unsolicited texts that look like they are from large retailers, credit card companies, and even your bank pretending to be automated fraud prevention messages. They may ask you to verify a big-ticket order you didn’t make and reply “yes or no”, include a link to click, or provide a phony phone number to call to “fix” your account. Typically, you do not want to reply, click on the link, or call the number. As we advised above, contact the store or bank directly or go to their website you know is real to investigate if there is an issue.

Did you know…According to the FTC, reports about texts impersonating banks are up nearly 20x since 2019?

Charity Scams

You should be wary of scams even when you are not looking for a good deal on a tablet but trying to do a good deed. Fraudsters are even out there trying to capitalize on terrible events, tragedies, and the plights of people in need. Designed to make it easy for victims to give money and feel like they’re making a difference, perpetrators of fraudulent charity scams set up false charities and profit from individuals who believe they are making donations to legitimate charitable organizations. They can come from unsolicited phone calls, email campaigns, crowdfunding platforms, or fake social media accounts and websites. So, even when giving to charity, you should practice caution with unsolicited calls and do your own research on where to donate.

But wait, there’s more. Even when the holidays are over, the scams can persist.

Gift Card Scams

After the holidays are behind you and you have given and received all of your gifts, you may have a few unused gift cards laying around. We advise that you hold on to them and use them for the right sweater, blender, or cotton candy maker. What you should not do is use them to pay for anything besides gifts.

Scammers often prefer to receive payment in gift cards because they can get quick cash while staying anonymous. In fact, giving a scammer the PIN numbers off the back of a gift card is the number one-way people report losing money on many of the top frauds reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Did you know… About one in nine people who told the FTC they lost money to fraud in 2022, say they paid with a gift card? Their losses alone amounted to $228 million.  

If someone demands to be paid with a gift card, you should be suspicious that it could be a scam. Use your gift cards for those new headphones you want, not for an urgent payment. 

Many of the above scams fall into the category of holiday phishing scams. To learn more about phishing scams and how to better protect you and your family against phishing attacks, read Phishing Scams Have Evolved—Are You Prepared?

Stay safe out there and happy holidays!

The information provided is intended as general guidance and is not intended to convey any tax, benefits, or legal advice. For information pertaining to your company and its specific facts and needs, please consult your own tax advisor or legal counsel. Links to sources may be to third party sites. We have no control over and assume no responsibility for the content, privacy policies or practices of any third party sites or services.