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4 shopping scams to look out for this Holiday Season


4 shopping scams to look out for this Holiday Season

It’s that time of year again: Black Friday! We all know the day after Thanksgiving to be one of the biggest shopping days of the year. Despite the pandemic, shoppers spent a record $9 billion on Black Friday in 2020. Whether you’re planning on tackling these sales or not, here are some scams to look out for:


We hear about phishing year-round but it's especially important to stay alert during the holidays. Hackers are looking to get their hands on any personal information they can: credit card numbers, social security numbers, or account login information. These cybercriminals will send our emails or text messages that may look official upon receiving them, but if you look closely, you’ll notice some discrepancies.

One of the major retailers to seriously look out for is Amazon. Hackers have been sending our fraudulent order notifications through email that resembles your typical order confirmation. If you receive an email with a substantial amount and are confused, it’s a natural reaction to reach out to customer service. These emails will most likely include contact information to do this. DO NOT CALL this number. This will result in the person asking you to confirm payment information to ‘cancel the order’. If you fall for this, they will have your information.

If you feel like something is off, reach out to the official Amazon customer service line. Confirm with the representative that the email is legitimate before doing anything else.

Other ways to identify a phishing email, according to the Federal Trade Commission and, include:

  • The sender’s email address looks almost right but contains extra characters or misspellings.
  • There are misspellings or bad grammar either in the subject line or anywhere in the body
  • They address you with generic terms (“Mr.” or “Ms.” Or “Dear Customer”) instead of by name.
  • The message warns that you need to take immediate action and asks you to click a link and enter personal details, especially payment information.
  • The message promises a refund, coupons, or other freebies.
  • The company logo in the email looks low-quality or just plain wrong.

Digital Credit Card Skimming

If you are unaware of what traditional credit card skimming is: a hacker places an object over a credit card reader, looks to be a part of the ATM, and when you skim your card, your information is collected and stolen. This type of attack is incredibly common and accounts for millions in stolen cash each year.

With the technology today, this is now occurring digitally. Hackers can now use malicious code to do this same thing when you are purchasing items through a website.

Unfortunately, there is no real reason to tell if or when a website is compromised. According to Tim Mackey, principal security strategist for Synopsis, “the only potential tell-tale sign might be that the website itself doesn’t look quite right.”

He suggests a few strategies you can use to protect yourself:

  • Don’t save your credit card information on retail sites.
  • If possible, use a third-party payment method like Apple Pay, Google Wallet, or PayPal.
  • Enable purchase alerts on all your credit cards.
  • Disable international purchases on all credit cards.
  • Only make purchases over your home network or cellular network, never on a public Wi-Fi where your payment could be intercepted.

‘Secret-Sister’ gift exchange on Facebook

Do you actively scroll and interact on Facebook? You may have seen this scam in your feed. What internet strangers are calling ‘Secret Sister’, a play on the well-known game Secret Santa, is a pyramid scheme inviting you to purchase and exchange holiday gifts with strangers. The “Secret Sister’ exchange invitation promises you’ll receive $360 worth of gifts after purchasing and mailing a $10 gift for someone else. Some examples being, “swapping bottles of wine” and donating money to a “secret dog”.

Do not fall for this scam! You will be at risk of losing money but more importantly, personal information. If you receive this invitation on Facebook, immediately report it.

You can learn how to report Facebook posts and other items, here.

Faux Charities

The holiday season is a great time to donate and give back to your community. The last three months of the year make up 36% of all charitable giving during the year. However, scammers take advantage of this and will impersonate charities to steal your money. Commonly, scammers will create credible sounding charities, create a website around them, and even run social media campaigns to support them.

What should you look out for?

Phone calls from unknown numbers with your local area code. They will use local phone numbers to make them look legitimate. They will then pitch a heartfelt story to pull you in but they’ll never actually specify how they’ll help the cause. It is also important to remember they might attempt to convince you that you have donated before. If you get a call from a charity and sense some red flags, the AARP and FTC suggest you do the following:

  • Do your research! Use Google to get more information about a charity and learn how credible it is.
  • Pay close attention to the charity's name and website. False charities like to mimic other popular charities. If it seems too close in name to another, it might not be real.
  • Keep track of your donations. Even if you accidentally donate to a scammer, you need to ensure the donation isn’t recurring.
  • Don’t give away all your personal information. Of course, it’s normal to provide your card information, but don’t do the same with your Social Security number or bank account number.
  • Don’t make a cash donation. Unless you’re certain about a charity’s credibility, don’t give away cash, gift cards, or cryptocurrency.

Stay alert, good luck, and happy shopping! 

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