University of Wisconsin–Madison
Wrapped gift with fishing hook attached

Holiday scams to avoid (and easy tips to protect yourself)

The holidays are here, and even in a challenging year like 2020, many of us look forward to spending time with loved ones and exchanging gifts. Unfortunately, gift shopping provides more opportunities for criminals to try to steal your money. Here’s a list of scams to avoid this year, followed by tips to help protect yourself.

Types of Scams

Fake Markets

Does your town host an annual holiday market? If so, it may be cancelled due to the pandemic this year. If you see someone selling tickets for a “virtual market” on Facebook, be careful.

According to the Better Business Bureau, scammers are exploiting the pandemic by selling tickets for phony virtual events. Before buying such a ticket, call the person or organization who normally plans the event to find out if the event is taking place virtually, and if so, whether they’re selling tickets.

Avoid dubious virtual markets entirely; scammers aren’t just content with selling phony tickets, they’re also known for stealing people’s credit card info and installing malware on victims’ phones.

“Secret Sister” Gift Exchanges

Say you’re scrolling on Facebook and see someone post about a gift exchange they’re participating in. If you buy one gift of your choice for a “secret sister,” you’ll receive up to 36 gifts in the mail.

The “secret sister gift exchange” is an illegal pyramid scheme. It’s been around since 2015 and as with every other pyramid scheme, it relies on new, unsuspecting recruits. Once new victims stop signing up, the gift supply dries up—leaving most people out the money they spent on their present, with nothing in return.

Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. And never give out your personal information to someone you don’t know.

Gift Card Scams

Hot holiday items like PlayStation 5 also provide opportunities for scammers. You might see one offered on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist at a significant discount. If you contact the seller, you find they want you to pay with an Amazon gift card.

This is one of the most common holiday scams, and if you fall for it, you’re unlikely to get your money back. Always use your credit or debit card for online purchases. If someone asks you to pay with a gift card, it’s probably a scam.

Package Delivery Scams

If you get an email from “UPS” asking to confirm your personal info before your packages come, go ahead and delete it.

Scammers are taking advantage of increased online shopping during the pandemic to steal sensitive information from consumers by phone, text and email. Delivery services like UPS and FedEx will never ask for personal info like your login or banking information. If you get an email or text asking for any these details, odds are it’s a scam.

If you’re concerned about missing a package delivery, contact the seller you ordered the item from directly to check the status, or view the tracking info online using a verified tracker:

Bogus Charities

If you’re solicited to donate to a charity you haven’t heard of, check them out. Legitimate charities are usually listed on non-profit websites like Charity Navigator and GuideStar.

Other Ways To Protect Yourself

  • Always check the URL to make sure the site is legitimate and secure.
  • Never click on unfamiliar or unexpected links. If a company you’ve never done business with emails you a link or an attachment, don’t open it. Even for companies you know, it’s safer to browse directly to their website rather than following a link in email, as a scammer may send you a legitimate-looking fake link.
  • When buying items online, always get a tracking number to confirm shipment and follow the delivery process.
  • Never wire money to a seller.
  • Avoid paying for items with pre-paid gift cards.
  • Use a credit card when shopping online and check your statement regularly. If you see a suspicious transaction, contact your credit card company to dispute the charge.

What To Do If You Think You’ve Been Scammed

If, despite your vigilance, you still fall prey to a scammer, there are some things you can do:

  • Call your credit card company or bank
  • Contact local law enforcement
  • Report the scam to ic3.gov

Learn More

Sources