Avoiding holiday scams

December 05, 2022

Beware of holiday scams and give yourself the gift of a safe and festive season

Various artistic tools for children that spell - ScamIt’s understandable to want to get the best deals while holiday shopping, and to be charitable during the season. So don’t let the scammers spoil the festivities and steal your spirit, money, data or worse.

In general, practice good cybersecurity on your computer and smartphone. Use secure connections, keep your spam, antivirus and malware protection up to date, and don’t shop online using public Wi-Fi, which can open the door to hackers to steal your personal and financial data.

While many holiday scams are variations of year-round tricks, beware a special few that ramp up during the holiday months. These warnings from the FBI and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will help you safely spread the holiday cheer.

Fake shopping sites

Scammers know the holidays and post-pandemic habits mean increased shopping online. Beware of unsolicited emails and social media advertising. Always compare offers with manufacturer’s websites and known retailers. Beware that searching online for your item plus terms like “deals” and “discounts” can pull up results for fake sites. However you find your way to an illegitimate retailer, if the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. At best you’ll be getting a low-quality knock-off of the item you are expecting – if you get anything at all. At worst, you’ve given your personal information and credit card data to bad actors.

Package delivery scams

More online shopping means more deliveries, and the FCC warns of fake delivery notifications. Text messages and calls appear to be from actual mail or package couriers, like UPS, FedEx and USPS, and include a fake tracking link. The link takes you to a website where you’ll be asked to enter personal information or install malware that will steal your data. The FCC also warns of voicemail messages requesting you to call them back to get your package delivered. The numbers may be 10-digit international numbers or start with an 809 area code. The scammers will often request money in return to deliver a package, calling it a customs fee or tax.

Fake Travel Deals

Like other online retail, be wary of unsolicited emails or social media posts about travel and hotel deals that seem too good to be true. Don’t rush to purchase last-minute bookings from sketchy sites. Double check web addresses and purchase from trusted sites: just like other retail scams, scammers will set up a spoofing site to closely resemble that of a legitimate booker. Do your research to make sure you’re not purchasing hotel rooms, airfare and vacation packages that don’t exist.

Letter from Santa scam/identify theft

There are legitimate letter-writing services to have letters from Santa sent to your children or grandchildren. But if it’s a scam site, you will have provided a treasure trove of personal information about the child. The valuable data you’ve given them can be used to steal the child’s identity. And, because minors aren’t checking their credit score, they won’t know what’s been done in their name until many years have passed. Write the letter yourself, or ask a friend or family member for help if you need.

Gift card scams

Gift card spending jumps during the holidays, and scammers want their share. They like that the money on gift cards is like cash, and once spent or stolen can’t be recovered or traced.

In stores, scammers will scratch off PIN codes and numbers of physical cards, hide the scratches, then wait for someone to purchase. They’ll enter the card number into computer software that repeatedly checks the issuer’s website to know when a card has been purchased. Then, the scammer will spend the money before the purchaser has a clue. AARP reports that “more than 1 in 5 respondents to [an] AARP survey said they had given or received a gift card that turned out to have no value on it.”

Buy your cards directly from the retailer you want or those stored behind counters, and check for tampering. Avoid buying those in insecure areas such as grocery store displays that offer cards from many retailers.

AARP also reports that “fraudsters also lurk on resale or auction websites, ostensibly offering goods at an attractive discount. Once they get you interested in buying, they’ll ask you to pay with a gift card. As soon as they get the card number and PIN, they vanish, and so does the money on the card.”

Fake charities/donations

You want to give back and save on your taxes. Do your research so you’re not donating to a scammer’s bad cause. AARP warns to watch for close-but-not-quite-right names such as “National” instead of “American” in a well-known charity’s name. Ignore all email solicitations unless you have previously donated to that charity.

The Federal Trade Commission offers these tips:

  • Search online for a cause you care about plus phrases like “best charity” or “highly rated charity.” You can also search the name plus “fraud,” “scam,” “review” and the like to see which ones to avoid.
  • Look for detailed information on their website and be sure it includes a physical address and phone number to contact them.
  • Use tools such as the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, CharityWatch and Candid to research charities.
  • Confirm if your charity is registered with your state’s regulator (in Texas that’s the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Secretary of State). Check if it the charity is registered with the IRS as a tax-exempt organization.
  • Never donate with gift cards, wire transfers or cryptocurrency. Consider donating items or time instead of cash.

What to do if you think you’ve been scammed

  • Freeze your credit report.
  • Call your credit card company or your bank. Dispute any suspicious charges.
  • Contact local law enforcement.
  • Report the scam to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at ic3.gov.


AARP: https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2019/gift-card.html
FBI: https://www.fbi.gov/how-we-can-help-you/safety-resources/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/holiday-scams
Federal Trade Commission: https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/giving-charity
Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/advisor/personal-finance/holiday-scams/