Financial Education Blog

Fraud Watch: Holiday Scams to Avoid

The National Retail Foundation (NRF) estimates that America’s retail sales are set to hit between $717 billion and $720 billion this Holiday season. It’s prime shopping season not just for those who want to make the season joyous for their friends and family, but also for those fraudsters looking to take advantage of the giving spirit. Here’s what to keep your eye on as the Holidays approach.
 
Online shopping safety
In 2017, it was estimated that online fraud attempts between Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Eve increased by 22 percent over the previous year. With the bulk of holiday shopping being done online, it’s important to stay extra mindful of which sites you’re visiting to make those holiday purchases. Be sure to use websites that feature a lock icon in the browser bar and that begin with an “https” versus an “http.” Both the lock and the “s” indicate that the site is secure. 
 
Email phishing attempts
Email phishing, the fraudulent attempt to get individuals to reveal personal information, can happen any time of year; around the holidays, these attempts can take on the form of a fake order confirmation or shipping notification. Fraudsters will send you what looks like a legitimate email from a reputable company at first glance, and include a link that they want you to click to confirm your purchase or track your order. This link can mean bad news for you as it can allow fraudsters to access your network or device to install malware or ransomware on your computer that locks you out of your own files. If you receive an email requesting you click on a link, it’s in your best interest not to do so to keep your files safe.
 
If you are expecting a package, take the tracking number provided and enter it at the shipping company’s secure website to track the package from there. The same goes for confirming an order. To give yourself some peace of mind when conducting your holiday affairs online, and to provide your PC or laptop with an extra layer of security, consider downloading safety software such as Trusteer, free from 7 17.
 
Fake Data Breach Notifications
This is another example of phishing. Because we tend to be more aware of the potential for data breaches at this time of year, fraudsters will try to take advantage of that, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns. Often, scammers will call an individual under the false guise of a retailer to say that their information is at risk or someone has made an attempt to hack their account. They claim that they need personal information in order to “fix the issue” and re-establish your account. In truth, they are just trying to obtain your personal information for themselves.
 
Only provide personal information if you initiate the call. If you are unsure of a caller's claims, but you are concerned that there may have been fraud committed against you, call the company's known customer service number directly and ask to speak to the fraud department.
 
Not only do scammers impersonate legitimate businesses, they also impersonate government agencies and financial institutions.  Please be aware that 7 17 will never call you or send an email or a text message to request your online banking credentials or other personal information.
 
Card information theft
There’s a lot to think about at this time of year, like what you’re cooking, when the next party is, or if you bought something for Aunt Janice, making it very easy to get distracted. That distraction can make you less mindful of your security and your debit or credit cards. Make sure that you put your card back in its designated spot in your wallet after each purchase you make, whether at home online or while you’re out shopping. This way, you don’t have to worry about someone getting their hands on it because it fell out of your purse or pocket.
 
No matter the time of year, fraudsters have been known to install skimming devices at ATMs or put faceplates over payment terminals in an attempt to access your accounts. When entering your PIN on an ATM or while making a debit purchase, keep the keypad covered to restrict the information fraudsters can obtain.
 
It’s always in your best interest to continually monitor your accounts to check for suspicious activity. The quicker you report potential fraud, the less liability you have in covering your losses.  
 
Charity scams
Just because you’re feeling charitable, it doesn’t mean that fraudsters are. Watch for imposter websites or phone calls that use names similar to legitimate charities; dishonest people will use such fronts in an attempt to take your charitable donations.
 
If you’ve found a charity that sounds like one you would like to give to, the BBB recommends using a site like Charity Navigator or Give.org to research the organization’s qualifications.
 
Holiday employment
The NRF reports that an estimated 650,000 seasonal workers will be hired by retailers across the country this year. With the increased need for seasonal employees, fraudsters are taking advantage of this with scam holiday job offers. The BBB’s scam tracker reports that there have already been 3,749 employment scams across the country since January 1.

According to the BBB, telltale signs of scam employment offers include “employers” who request job application fees, those who hire without requesting an interview or viewing your qualifications, ambiguous company descriptions, and lack of information from recruiters, among others.