Ho-Ho-Hold Scammers at Bay this Holiday Season
by A. Scott White, CFP®, ChFC, CLU
It’s a season of giving. But for some individuals, it’s a season of taking. Scammers will steal your identity, bank accounts, credit cards…whatever they can. So while you’re making that list and checking it twice, be sure you are up-to-date on your online security practices.
According to the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), shoppers need to be alert to holiday scams and malicious cyberattacks this holiday season.1 Fraudsters may push themed scams through online ads, misleading calls, phishing emails, and text messages. And many of the scams are branded to look like they came from a legitimate company.
According to a new AARP survey on holiday scams, the online gift-giving process offers many opportunities to fall prey to scammers. In fact, the survey shows that 35% of US adults have experienced fraud when buying a product through an online ad.2
That incredible online deal that seems too good to be true? It probably is, and the link provided may take you to a fake retail website with fake ‘deals’ and fake products. The only real aspect is the money that you will lose. Attackers may send holiday-themed phishing emails designed to look like Amazon order confirmations—emails infected the victim’s computer with malware that logged keystrokes and attempted to steal account credentials.
When you click on a scammer’s link, malicious software could be downloaded on your device—without your knowledge. After that, scammers can steal your financial information, and even passwords to your financial accounts.
If the company offering the deal is one you haven’t heard of, before clicking on any links, be sure to type the company’s name into a web browser along with the words ‘scam, fraud or complaint.’ Even if you think the ad is from a retailer you’re familiar with, don’t click on the link. Instead, open your browser and type in the retailer’s name. That way you’ll be directed to the real site—and not a clone.
The AARP survey also found that 21% of U.S. adults have experienced gift card scams—giving or receiving a gift card with no value.2 Scammers can use bots to test millions of combinations of gift card numbers and PINs on retailer websites. When they find an active card, they drain the money.1 Also, scammers can steal value from gift cards displayed in stores by altering the cards, which are then sold to unsuspecting gift-givers.
The AARP survey shows that 25% of adults in the US have had a package stolen from outside their home, and 34% have received a fake notification about a shipment. With so many deliveries—and delivery people—during the holidays, packages can easily be stolen from porches by ‘porch pirates.’ 2
Some households are finding that doorbells with cameras may be a deterrent to porch pirates. According to TechRadar.com, thieves say that any visual deterrent, such as a video doorbell, may make thieves stay away.3
Scammers may claim to be shipping carriers such as FedEx and UPS, sending fake notifications saying there’s a problem with a shipment and you need to contact them. But there’s no shipment coming, and all they want is for you to respond and provide money or personal information. If you haven’t ordered anything and aren’t expecting a package, beware. And do not respond to urgent or high-pressure messages asking for personal information.
The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency recommends these three steps to follow while shopping online1:
1 – Check your devices. Before shopping, make sure your devices are up-to-date and all of your accounts have strong passwords. If you purchase an internet connected device or toy, change the default password and check the device’s privacy and security settings.
2 – Shop through trusted retailers. Before making a purchase and providing any personal or financial information, make sure you’re using a reputable, established vendor. And if you’re making a charitable donation, be sure to research who or where your donation is going.
3 – Using safe methods for purchases. Use a credit card instead of a debit card, since credit cards often have better fraud protections.
This holiday season, increase your vigilance for scammers. And make the holiday season ho-ho-hopeless for these criminals.
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