Trends in Trust

Holiday hoaxes: How scammers take advantage of the holiday season

Wednesday, December 2, 2020
Holiday hoaxes How scammers take advantage of the holiday season (1)

‘Tis the season of holiday shopping and unfamiliar purchase experiences. As we all navigate the holidays during our ninth month of the global pandemic, many of us are seeing changes in our traditional holiday shopping habits. Whether it be sending digital gift cards to loved ones staying apart or conducting all of our shopping online, we might be spending money differently than usual. With so much increased spending activity and exposure to new methods of shopping and gift-giving, we also see a rise in scams and fraud that aim to take advantage of unsuspecting shoppers.

In our series, Trust in the Age of Scamming, Trustpilot is exploring how consumers are regularly exposed to scams, how they can detect scams, and how to know what brands to trust. During the holidays we’re looking at scams that become more prevalent during this season and how consumers can protect themselves and their finances when conducting their holiday shopping and activities.

Be aware of gift card schemes

During the holiday season, busy to-do lists may find us scrambling to get a last minute and gift oftentimes gift cards are the easiest solution. This year, 33% of consumers in the US plan on sending digital gift cards as gifts during the holiday season. Scammers see this as an opportunity and are on the lookout for ways to get you to pay for valueless gift cards. Whether it be fake websites selling nonexistent gift cards or a seemingly innocent ad in Facebook Marketplace offering discounts on unused gift cards, scammers will try and get you to turn over cash for gift cards they never intend to deliver, or with a zero dollar balance.

Here are a few guidelines to avoid getting scammed when shopping for gift cards:

  • Purchase gift cards in-person or directly from the business’ website whenever possible.
  • When purchasing a gift card in-person, check to make sure the packaging and security seals haven’t been tampered with.
  • If you’re sending a digital gift card, double check the email address and follow up with the recipient to make sure they received the card digitally shortly after it’s purchased.
  • Be extra cautious when checking a gift card balance online. There have been instances of fraudulent websites claiming to let you know your balance, but when the gift card information is entered on the website, fraudsters steal the information.
  • While there are some legitimate websites that offer discounted gift cards, be cautious when using third-party sites that sell gift cards at a discount. A good rule of thumb is that if the discount is too good to be true, it’s probably not legit.
  • If you decide to use a third party website to purcahse discounted gift cards, be sure to check their reviews on Trustpilot to ensure you’re buying from a legitimate merchant.
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So many packages, so much opportunity for fraud

With COVID-19 seeing another surge globally, up to 75% of consumers intend to do at least some holiday shopping online this year. That means more packages for households to keep track of and more opportunities for scammers to take advantage of the busy holiday season.

Most of us know that “porch pirates” exist but there are more sophisticated scams you may be exposed to. For example, you may receive a “missed delivery” call asking you to confirm your credit card number or other personal or financial details before a package can be delivered. Scammers assume many households will have so many deliveries pending that they will neglect to check details of a package before handing over private information.

In order to make sure your packages arrive safely and scammers don’t take advantage of the stress and confusion that can occur during the holidays, follow these tips:

  • Check reviews on Trustpilot before ordering from a new or unfamiliar website to make sure they’re legitimate.
  • Check the company’s shipping estimate and shipping carrier to make sure you know when to expect the package and from which carrier.
  • Keep track of what online purchases you’ve made, the amount, and tracking information once it’s provided. They extra organizational step may seem like a headache, but you’ll feel better knowing that you didn’t overlook anything.
  • Never give sensitive personal information to anyone through phone, email, or in-person, even if they claim to be a representative of a shipping carrier and have an official logo. A carrier may need to see a copy of a valid ID to confirm you are the recipient of a package, but they should not need financial or personal information.
  • Never pay to receive a package. It is very rare that a package will require payment from the recipient for delivery. If you are unsure, get in touch with the sender of the package and ask them to confirm shipping details.

The season of giving gives scammers more opportunity

A few months ago, we shared how people are more susceptible to encountering fraudulent charities or fake fundraising scams during times of increased charitable activity. It’s an unfortunate truth that the season of giving also brings out scammers who are looking to take advantage of those who want to support legitimate charities and non-profits. So we’ve summarized a few of our best tips to avoid sending well-meaning funds to dishonest organizations:

  • Donate to registered non-profits when possible and check their website for detailed information about their mission and how their funds are used.
  • Look to government agencies or watchdog groups such as Charity Commission and Guidestar to verify that the non-profit organization you are supporting is legitimate.
  • Be extra cautious when using crowdfunding sites. There are many examples of individuals using crowdfunding websites to scam consumers so try and find third party sources such as friends, family, or local news stories to verify the legitimacy of a crowdfunded cause.
  • Use secure payment methods when donating online. It’s a red flag if a charity or individual is only willing to accept cash or upfront payment methods such as money orders, wire transfers, pre-loaded cards, or electronic currency.
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Scammers go phishing during the holidays

With increased online shopping this holiday season comes increased scamming opportunities. We’re likely to be inundated with emails and advertisements offering us sales and deals, and generally reminding us about all the money we need to spend (or have already spent). With so much cyber information coming through our screens, it’s easy to be less scrupulous about privacy and security than we normally are.

Scammers will take advantage of this and send “phishing” emails hoping to get our personal or financial information. Phishing scams are wide and varied but during the holidays they come disguised as one of many seemingly innocent subject lines sure to be found in your inbox. You may see imposters pretending to be your favorite brands email you with subject lines advertising great deals such as “Act now for free gift with purchase!” or “Limited time holiday sale.” You may also see emails with vague headlines such as “Your recent purchase” or “Shipping delay.”

These emails often have embedded links that take you to websites intended to steal your information or that can install malware on your computer.

In order to avoid falling victim to a phishing scheme, these are a tips you can follow:

  • Always check the email of the sender. If it’s one of your favorite brands or a website offering you a discount or deal, the email should reflect their website. Spelling mistakes or an unaffiliated email is a major red flag.
  • Does the greeting or tone of the email seem off? If so, it’s a red flag. Phishers may use greetings such as “Hi Dear” or “Dear User.” An email with an odd greeting or lots of spelling and grammar mistakes is a sign you may not be looking at an email from a legitimate brand.
  • If an email repeatedly tells you to “act now!” or creates a sense of urgency around updating personal or financial information, or if the email is threatening in any way, there is a good chance the email isn’t legit.
  • Finally, if you’re not sure if the email you received from a company or brand is spam, reach out directly to their customer service department to confirm the email came from them.

We know the holidays can be overwhelming and the last thing you want to be concerned with, on top of everything else, is getting scammed. Trustpilot is here to help you navigate this busy time with millions of reviews from consumers just like you. Reviews can help you verify new purchase experiences so you can buy with confidence. And if you’ve had an experience with a business this holiday season that you’d like to share with others, leave them a review on Trustpilot.

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