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Online Safety During the Holidays


Common Holiday Scams

Read on below to learn about some of the most common scams you should look out for while doing your holiday shopping.

Fake Winnings/Gift Cards

Gift card scams are becoming especially common and are rising in popularity among internet thieves this holiday season.

These types of scams can happen in multiple ways. The most common is that someone selling items online asks to be paid in gift cards. This is a tell-tale sign that you are being scammed. They’ll ask for a photo of the gift card number and then take the money and disappear. This is a preferred method since gift cards offer much less protection to buyers than something like a credit card. (If this scam does happen to you, always reach out to the gift card company to see if they can help you.)

Gift card scams may also involve someone posing as a family member/friend, government official, or utility company saying they need to give you money. They’ll pay you “too much” via check, then ask for the difference on a gift card. By the time you figure out the check is fake, you’ve already given the funds to them!

Also avoid online stores/vendors that claim to be selling gift cards well under their face value.

Similarly, make sure to avoid any notifications you may receive about ‘winning’ a free vacation or trip somewhere. Especially if you have never entered a contest, these notifications are often fake. Remember that legitimate companies won’t ever ask you to pay before you get your ‘prize’.

Fake Delivery Notifications

If going out into the cold weather and crowded stores is not your thing, you’ll probably be online shopping this season (or all seasons)! Scammers are well aware that many people prefer to do their shopping online, and send a lot of phishing emails/texts regarding a missing or delayed package.

You may receive a text or email about a package that won’t arrive on time, is lost/missing, or that you missed receiving. They will contain a link for you to click that will steal your information, or may even allow malware on your device.

If you receive one of these messages and you know you’ve been doing some online shopping, check the status of your delivery with the tracking code provided in a verified email you received from the vendor, or check directly on the store's site. Often times, all you have to do is enter in your order number, and you can view shipping information online without having to click any links.

Fake or “lookalike” stores

It’s like we always say: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. There is an uptick during the holidays of new stores advertising everywhere; from social media to common website ads, you may see some amazing deals.

While you’re shopping online, it can be tempting to click on these ads and check out what great deals are available. Be very careful shopping on a site you’ve never used before. If the discounts seem too high for luxury or in-demand items, do some research.  A simple Google search can verify whether or not other people have been scammed or even if the quality of the item is as described.

Check for:

  • A padlock in the address bar; this will tell you if the site is secure
  • Use something like Google's Transparency Report to tell you if a site has been compromised.
  • Site professionalism. Are there tons of spelling errors, odd images, or no return policy stated anywhere?
  • Reviews. Online reviews on independent sites are a good way to check out new stores.

There may also be stores that try hard to look like other well-known, reputable vendors. Doing the above checks is a good way to make sure you are in the right place.

Charity Scams

The holiday season is also unfortunately a time where scammers take advantage of people’s good will and intentions. If you find a charity you are considering making a donation to, do your research! Scam charities typically don’t give you much information on the ‘charity’ itself, or ask you to pay quickly with things like wire transfers, gift cards, or even cryptocurrency.

You can check online with the IRS to view registered charitable organizations:

Protecting Yourself Online

With all these potential scams attempts to search out for, it can seem daunting to protect yourself online! Don’t worry—Community First has you covered. Luckily, following a few cybersecurity tips to keep your accounts secure can help protect you from fraudsters.

Protect your Accounts

Read on to get a few tips to keep you online accounts safe:

  1. Monitor your accounts. Keep a closer eye on your accounts if you're doing a lot of shopping this season. Set up alerts for transactions and balances!
  2. Shop on secure sites. Like we mentioned above, make sure the site you are shopping on are secure (check for the little padlock icon next to the address of the site). For extra security, make sure you are not shopping on public WiFi that leave you vulnerable to hacking.
  3. Pay securely. Check again for website security when you pay online and do not pay with wire/direct transfers, gift cards, or cash/check sent through the mail. Credit cards often have the highest level of protection for consumers.
  4. Don't share sensitive information. This includes account numbers, usernames, and passwords! Check out our article on choosing a safe password.
  5. Keep your devices up to date. Whether it's a phone, laptop, or tablet, make sure you are keeping the software updated! This helps protect you from bugs or security risks. Like we've mentioned before, antivirus software is a great investment.
Remember if it's too good to be true, it probably is!

It's important when shopping online to do your research. We are all bombarded with holiday deals, new items, and limited time offers. Take a moment to pause. Is this a place I’ve shopped before? Are there any reviews online? How does their site look?

The extra few minutes it takes to look into a store or notification before you click or purchase can protect you from the headache of having your account or device compromised.



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