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Holiday Hijinks: The Top 10 Scams Threatening Your Festive Cheer

    criminal holding computer to illustrate scams during the holidays

    Each year, a considerable number of individuals fall prey to holiday scams, resulting in the loss of hard-earned money, personal information, and, at the very least, a festive spirit. 

    Scammers operate throughout the year, but they particularly target the surge in online transactions and web activity during the holiday season, with a heightened focus on major shopping events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

    According to the 2022 report from the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), there were 800,944 scams reported amounting to over $10.3 billion in losses.  As the holiday season approaches, it’s crucial to remain vigilant against scams. The surge in complaints received by the IC3 in the early months of each year underscores a correlation with scams during the preceding holiday shopping season. 

    Stay informed and cautious to protect yourself from falling victim to these deceptive practices. So, what holiday scams should you be looking out for this year?

    Here are the Latest Holiday Scams to Watch Out for in 2023:

    1. Fake Charities

    Beware of fraudulent charities that try to exploit your goodwill during the holiday season, as scammers concoct sham charities, deceptive GoFundMe pages, and other seemingly charitable endeavors. Identifying these scams can be challenging until you’ve lost money or disclosed sensitive information.

    Key indicators of holiday charity scams include:

      • Always verify the authenticity of the URL and charity name before making a donation. Scammers often devise deceptive charities with names resembling reputable ones to deceive unsuspecting donors.
      • Be wary if you encounter high-pressure sales tactics or vague language. Legitimate charities do not employ intimidation, and you should always have a clear understanding of how your contributions will be utilized.

    How to protect yourself:

      • Prior to contributing, conduct comprehensive research on charities through reputable sources such as the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance or Charity Navigator. This ensures that your donations are directed toward legitimate causes.
      • Before donating to GoFundMe or similar campaigns, scrutinize the organizers or groups involved. Verify their legitimacy to avoid falling victim to fraudulent fundraising activities.

    2. Gift Card Scams

    Gift card scams, including the distribution of empty gift cards, are a favorite of scammers because gift cards are hard to trace. Many holiday scams involve the fraudulent acquisition and sale of gift cards, often by deceiving individuals into divulging credit or debit card numbers, typically by posing as financial institutions or government agencies.

    For example, cybercriminals establish fictitious stores or Craigslist listings advertising discounted gift cards. However, if you send money in response, you may only receive an empty gift card in return.

    Key indicators of gift card scams include:

      • When acquiring gift cards from physical stores, carefully examine them to ensure that they haven’t been tampered with. Check the back for any signs of PIN exposure, and retain the receipt for verification in case of loss or theft.
      • Only purchase cards from reputable retailers. When buying online, double-check the store’s URL for security. Whenever possible, obtain gift cards directly from the authorized retailer or company.
      • Beware of activation scams. Never agree to pay an “activation fee” for a gift card. Unscrupulous vendors may impose exorbitant fees solely for activating your card.

    How to protect yourself:

      • Limit gift card use. If someone requests payment in the form of a gift card, particularly to cover fees or “protect your money,” it is more than likely a scam.
      • Redeem gift cards only at the issuer’s store. 

    3. Imposter Online Stores

    Beware of imposter online stores offering substantial discounts, particularly in an era where online shopping has surged amid the pandemic. Safeguarding your online shopping experience is crucial as scammers establish fraudulent online storefronts featuring heavily discounted prices to deceive consumers. Falling victim to these schemes may result in credit card theft or coercion into irreversible payment methods like wire transfers, Zelle, or gift cards.

    Key indicators of imposter online store scams include:

      • Excessive discounts, be wary of online stores advertising significant discounts, especially those exceeding 50%. If an unfamiliar online store claims to have the best prices available, exercise caution as it may be a scam.
      • Scrutinize websites for signs of phishing scams, such as poor spelling and grammar, low-quality images, and reviews that sound artificial or fake.
      • Be cautious if the online store lacks essential company details, such as an “About Us” page, contact information (including phone number and address), or information about the return process.

    How to protect yourself:

      • Choose to only make purchases from reputable, well-known online stores. If considering a purchase from a smaller retailer, conduct thorough research, including a Google search with the company name followed by “scam.”
      • Use credit cards for online purchases. Credit card companies often offer additional consumer protection, making it easier to dispute unauthorized charges.

    4. Fraudulent Seasonal Jobs

    Deceptive seasonal job offers have become an increasing concern throughout the year. However, during the holiday season, scammers exploit individuals seeking additional income by posting fraudulent job listings that promise attractive pay for minimal effort.

    In almost all instances, these scammers aim to either pilfer your personal information during the alleged hiring process or deceive you into sending them money under the guise of covering supplies and training.

    Key indicators of fraudulent seasonal jobs:

      • Immediate hiring or remote interviews via messaging apps like WhatsApp or Telegram.
      • Exercise vigilance if the job requires you to provide personal information upfront, such as your Social Security number, bank account details, or tax information.
      • If you’re asked to cash a check and send excess funds back to the company, it’s a clear indication of a refund scam.

    How to protect yourself:

      • Consult the review platforms on legitimate job sites like Glassdoor or Indeed to check for feedback from others about the company. Only share sensitive information once you can confirm the legitimacy of both the individual offering the job and the company itself.

    5. Deceptive Delivery Notification Scams

    During the holiday season, when many anticipate package deliveries, a prevalent scam involves fraudsters sending counterfeit delivery notification messages, hoping to lure recipients into clicking on a malicious link.

    These scam messages lead you to a fraudulent website designed to either harvest your personal information, solicit your credit card information, or coerce you into sending money to the scammer. Some fraudsters even go to the extent of creating imitation websites resembling official delivery service sites, such as UPS, to deceive unsuspecting victims.

    Key indicators of deceptive delivery notification scams include:

      • Use caution if the message prompts you to enter sensitive information. Legitimate delivery companies like FedEx, UPS, and others do not ask for your Social Security Number or credit card number to locate your delivery.
      • Check to see if the link in the message redirects you to a site not hosted on the official domains of UPS, USPS, or FedEx. Trustworthy websites typically use,, or Any variations from these official domain addresses may indicate a scam.

    How to protect yourself:

      • Use the provided tracking number to monitor your deliveries through the official website of the delivery company. Avoid using the link provided in a message; instead, visit the site directly.

    6. Social Media Ads Promoting Deceptive Merchandise

    Holiday scammers exploit social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok by creating ads that direct users to fraudulent stores or listings. According to the Better Business Bureau, many of these advertisements showcase personalized items, seemingly ideal for someone who “has it all.”

    However, the outcome might range from receiving a counterfeit product to the more severe risk of losing money or falling victim to identity theft.

    Key indicators of social media ad scams include:

      • Be suspicious if an ad link redirects you to an online store exhibiting signs of being a scam, especially if it lacks essential contact information beyond an online form.
      • Be wary if the account posting the ad has a meager follower count and exhibits characteristics typical of a scam.

    How to protect yourself:

      • Don’t automatically assume a site or store is legitimate solely because it appeared on social media. Instead, scrutinize for warning signs that may indicate you’ve been directed to a counterfeit or malicious online store.

    7. Popular Holiday Gifts at Unrealistic Prices

    In the frenzy to acquire this season’s most coveted gifts, many shoppers overlook the red flags signaling a potential scam. Fraudsters frequently post items on platforms like Facebook Marketplace at steep discounts and then request payment through irreversible apps like Zelle or Cash App.

    Key indicators of a deal that seems too good to be true include:

      • Exercise caution if a high-demand item is listed at a substantial discount. Be skeptical of sellers who provide emotional narratives about urgently needing to part with the item, as this is a classic scam tactic.
      • Use caution if you’re asked to make payments using apps such as Zelle or Cash App. These payment methods are akin to cash, and once the funds are sent to the scammer, retrieval is virtually impossible.

    How to protect yourself:

      • Trust your instincts. Before making a purchase, conduct thorough research on the seller and the legitimacy of the deal. Check for signs of a scam on the store or platform, and explore additional sources like the Better Business Bureau or a Google search for further verification.

    8. Deceptive Online Secret Santa Gift Exchanges

    The Better Business Bureau cautions against the “Secret Sister” gift exchange, an annual occurrence on social media during the holiday season. This exchange pledges participants up to 36 gifts in return for sending just one gift, like a bottle of wine, money, or purchasing a $10 gift online. To join, participants are required to disclose their name, address, and details about their friends.

    Despite the appeal of exchanging gifts and spreading goodwill to strangers, the Better Business Bureau emphasizes that this activity is a covert and illegal pyramid scheme.

    Key indicators of a Secret Santa gift exchange include:

      • Use caution if you are promised multiple gifts in exchange for sending money or presents to an unfamiliar person.
      • Be wary if you are asked for personal information to participate in the program. Scammers can exploit this information for identity theft or to target you with additional scams.

    How to protect yourself:

      • Disregard and report such posts to the social media platform where you encounter them. Reporting helps mitigate the spread of these scams and protects others from falling victim.

    9. Mail and Package Theft

    As the holiday season brings a surge of packages, orders, and cards to your doorstep, the risk of porch piracy is escalating. Scammers target cards containing cash and gift cards, as well as packages that can be pilfered and resold.

    Compounding the issue, if scammers seize mail containing sensitive information, such as credit card or bank statements, the potential for identity theft looms.

    Key indicators of mail theft include:

      • Be alert if your mail or packages go missing, or if your mailbox displays signs of tampering.
      • Exercise caution if you receive delivery notifications for mail or packages that never actually arrive.

    How to protect yourself:

      • Enroll in USPS Informed Delivery. Gain control and awareness of your incoming mail and packages by signing informed delivery, and providing you with previews of deliveries.
      • Consider upgrading your mailbox to a more secure version or installing a porch lockbox to deter and prevent theft during the holiday season.

    10. E-Skimmers 

    E-Skimmers are physical devices placed on top of legitimate credit card readers to illegally obtain your credit card information and other personal information. They are most commonly used at gas stations or ATMs where credit card machines are susceptible to being left unattended. 

    Key indicators of an e-skimmer include:

      • Evidence that credit card machine inspection seal has been broken. 
      • Credit card scan device looks different than main components of credit card machine. 

    How to protect yourself:

      • Always verify that credit card machine inspection seal is intact. 
      • Physically verify that credit card machine does not have an extra device installed on top of it, or inside it.

    More Resources:

    If you are ever uncertain about the legitimacy of a business or contact or the destination of your funds, utilize the following resources to verify the legitimacy of a business or charity and cross-reference potential scams.

      • Better Business Bureau maintains a comprehensive database tracking scams. You can search by business or charity name, keywords, or scam type.
      • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) scam alert page is a valuable resource and is regularly updated with current scams.  You can also sign up for email updates on scam alerts. If you encounter a holiday scam, file a complaint with the FTC online or at 877-382-4357.
      • AARP offers watchdog alerts for scams. Call their Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360.

    What to do if you are the victim of a scam:

    If you suspect being a victim of a holiday scam, prompt action is crucial by taking the following steps.

      • Protect your financial accounts by monitoring your bank and credit card statements regularly for suspicious activity.
      • Report fraud to your bank or credit card company immediately. Request a halt on direct debits and reversal of suspected fraudulent transactions. 
      • If your personal information has been compromised as part of a scam, freeze your credit reports. It is free to do so, and scammers won’t be able to access the information required to approve new accounts.
      • Alert the authorities. File an official complaint with the Federal Trade Commission online or by calling 877-382-4357. You will also want to file a report with your local police department, your state’s attorney general, and the consumer protection office.
      • Secure your accounts and devices by updating passwords and by conducting a full scan of devices using antivirus software.
      • Set up credit monitoring, and use a password manager to warn you if your accounts have been compromised.

    Consider giving the gift of cybersecurity this year. While you can’t put a bow on it, cybersecurity is truly a gift this holiday season and all year round.

    KT Connections is committed and dedicated to assisting you in strengthening your cybersecurity defenses. Our team of IT professionals can assist you in evaluating your security vulnerabilities, formulating a strong defense strategy, and providing comprehensive education for you and your staff on best practices. To learn more about how we can safeguard against cybersecurity threats,  contact our sales team today!