Say ho, ho, no to holiday scams this year. For many of us, online shopping, swiping our credit cards, and stacks of Amazon boxes on the front porch is what truly rings in the holiday season. Unfortunately, while we are on the holiday hunt for the perfect gifts, cybercriminals are on the hunt for our financial and personal information. Scammers continually adapt to target communities, businesses, and shoppers through a variety of attack methods, and it’s important to be aware of these threats.
What are Holiday Scams?
Each year, millions of people fall victim to holiday scams. These scams can come in the form of phishing attempts, gift card scams, or online sale scams.
- Phishing scam. Phishing is a common type of cyber-attack used by cybercriminals who send deceptive emails attempting to retrieve financial information or personally identifiable information (PII). For example, a person might receive an email from “PayPal” indicating their account has been compromised and they need to input their credit card information in order to avoid deactivation.
- Gift card scam. Gift cards are another popular type of cyber-attack because they are easily accessible to victims. Gift cards are like cash: once the money is used, it is gone. The scammer, for example, may convince someone they have won a prize or giveaway and they need to pay fees and shipping via gift card in order to receive it
- Online sale scam. Scammers will often pretend to be legitimate online seller with a fake website or fake ad. Thanks to social media, cybercriminals can use various platforms to set up fake online stores. They will manage the online store for a short time then disappear once they have several sales.
What Can You Do?
There are many ways to stay alert, informed, and aware of potential cyber-threat. Ask yourself the question, would a legitimate business ask their customers to do this? If there is even a shadow of a doubt, or if the opportunity seems too good to be true, walk away.
1. Check Devices
Before making online purchases, ensure your devices are up to date with the latest software. Newer software ensures devices are protected from cybercriminals by regularly patching vulnerabilities. These devices include smart phones, computers, and tablets. Check the privacy and security settings on all devices to ensure minimal information is being shared. Enable automatic software updates on all devices.
2. Shop Through Trusted Sources
The internet hosts billions of websites and online stores that have the potential for malicious activity. If something looks suspicious, avoid it. Always verify the legitimacy of a website or company prior to offering financial information. Do not connect to unsecure public Wi-Fi especially when banking or online shopping. Remember, cybercriminals will often send emails that look as if they were designed by retailers but are actually phishing attempts. Do not click any downloads or attachments unlessthey originate from a trusted source.
3. Use Safe Methods for Purchases
Most legitimate online retailers are up front about their payment security. These retailers will use a URL with “https” and a closed padlock to ensure the safety of shopper information. When possible, pay with a secure payment service such as PayPal or use a credit card. In most cases, even if one of these options is hacked, the company will catch the suspicious activity and the money will be returned to the original account..
The Best Defense
Our awareness of these scams is our best defense. The holidays can be stressful enough without worrying about cybercriminals stealing our financial or personal information. That is why it is important to be extremely vigilant during your holiday shopping. Is the business legitimate and trustworthy? Have other people purchased items from this business? Do they have a secure payment method? Always report a website, business, email, or social media page if it seems to be scam. Keep the holidays merry and bright by being cyber safety conscious!