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Holiday scams to avoid when shopping online

Every year we spend millions on Christmas gift shopping online. The Holiday season is also the peak for cyber crime. What are the most common scams during the Holidays and how can we avoid falling victim to these scams?


The Christmas holidays are the time of year when we shop the most. Unfortunately, the cyber criminals know this—and they’re not taking any holidays. That means it’s also the time of year where they step up their game, making the holiday season the peak for cyber crime. 

In a period where we shop more, and on several different sites and platforms, we need to be more vigilant. So, what types of scams should we look out for, and how can we avoid becoming a victim to such scams?

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What are the most common scams during the Holidays?

There are several common scams that you need to be aware of when doing online shopping during the Holiday season. Here are some of the most important ones:

Fake websites offering exclusive offers from well-known brands

Even though we’re always on the hunt for the perfect gift for our loved ones, we still have a budget. This makes it easier to fall for fake seasonal offers. A known cyber crime tactic is to create a fake page for an existing and well-known brand, offering an exclusive offer, which makes it easy to harvest your data or steal your credit card information.

Phishing emails

With all the online shopping done during Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the Christmas Holidays, it can be challenging to have control over all the confirmation emails in your inbox. You might also receive potential delivery emails about gifts you receive from others, without knowing about the surprise in advance.

Unfortunately, these sorts of emails are a goldmine for cyber criminals as they can easily send fake delivery emails that are opened and acted upon by the recipient. In such situations, you will receive a notification from someone that looks like a legitimate courier company, such as DHL, FedEx, or your local post company. The sender will urge you to take action quickly to get a hold of your package in time.

These emails can be phishing emails regarding everything from paying duties/VAT, tracking your shipment, or delivery issues. All of these are disguised as common and ordinary events when you order online, and they therefore often sneak through email filters as non-scam.

You might also be interested in: Password tips—How to create a strong password.

Social media scams

The holidays are also the peak season for social media scams such as fake giveaways, fake advent calendars or fake competitions on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube. Oftentimes, these are fronted by known brands or influencers, with the goal of luring the victim to download malicious software or stealing personal data.

Charity phishing scams

There’s also the even more cynical scams that play directly on conscience and exploit your goodwill and generosity such as charity phishing scams. 

People are usually more likely to reach out and help the less fortunate around Christmas time. Unfortunately, we see that scams take advantage of this and seek donations or set up fake sites imitating existing charities. This way, they can commit identity fraud or steal your money when you enter your bank details to donate. 

These scams usually tend to exploit natural disaster cases or other disasters that have received a lot of media attention. Cyber criminals will try to reach potential victims wanting to help by contributing to everything from crowdfunding pages to social media to even reaching out by phone.

Love scams

Have you ever heard about love scams? Romance scams have a tendency to be on the rise during the Holidays. One reason might be that people feel more vulnerable and lonely during Christmas, thus letting their guard down a bit more than usual. 

Targeting social media and dating sites with fake profiles, cyber criminals will usually lure their victims in with false promises, attention and compliments. This way, they are able to build trust through regular longer conversations and after a while make up a believable story for needing money. This is usually linked to travel expenses, medical expenses, being temporarily out of reach of their bank, or paying off debt.

Also read: What is fake news?

How to avoid falling victim to such scams?

The best recipe to avoid scams is to practice overall good cyber hygiene. Be careful with what links you’re clicking on, and be extremely wary when asked to give out personal information such as your name, password, bank account number and so on. 

Don’t download anything from an unsure source and stay away from shady-looking retailers. Also, be on the lookout for spelling mistakes, limited payment options and other fishy details. If you’re not familiar with the website you want to purchase something from, look it up first and see if you can find reviews.

You should also be very careful when it comes to payment. Never wire money directly to a seller privately, and always pay by MasterCard, PayPal or other secure payment options. If these payment options are not available then that might be a bad sign.

Always try to do some research on companies and people you meet online and keep in mind that if something is too good to be true, it probably is. And remember, if you’re in doubt, try to reach the courier or company’s real customer service to ask questions directly.

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