There are some things that never change about the holiday season: the twinkly lights, the cozy blankets, the bad Hallmark movies, and the online scams. Unfortunately, the rampant goodwill most people feel during the winter holidays makes them much more susceptible to digital threats, which means cybercriminals pull out all the stops come to the end of November.
If you don’t want to perpetuate this sort of holiday tradition, you need to know about some of the most pernicious scams out there during this time of year — and how you can combat them.
* Puppies for Sale:
It is everyone’s dearest wish: to open a box on Christmas morning and find a tiny, wiggly, painfully cute puppy inside. Kids, especially, want nothing more than a playful pet for the holidays. Unfortunately, because puppies are such a common gift this time of year, puppy-related scams skyrocket.
You should beware of online listings advertising puppies for sale, especially if they require payment of adoption fees, insurance, and other expenses before you can even see the pup. Rare breeds are even more likely to be advertised in these scams because people looking for unique dogs are likely to pay more and endure greater risks to get their hands on the exact puppy they desire.
If you are going to buy a dog for the holiday, you should try to see it in person before you put down any money. You might also consider adopting from a local shelter, where the puppies (and the sellers) could use your help.
* Letters From Santa:
There is nothing more thrilling than opening a genuine letter from Santa Claus — and your kids don’t need to know that letter was bought from a business offering that service. However, as eager as you might be to give your kids the gift of belief, you should be careful from where you acquire your letters from St. Nick. Copycat scammers eagerly accept information about your home and your kids, which they can use to scam you in the future, and they’ll happily take your credit card information to make their own purchases.
To avoid falling victim to this scam, you should avoid clicking on advertisements for letters from Santa. Instead, you should use a web search to identify businesses that Google deems respectable, and you should check out the Better Business Bureau’s reviews of the business to verify its legitimacy before making a purchase.
* Shipping Notifications:
This Black Friday, more people shopped online than shopped in stores. That means millions upon millions of shipping notifications went out during the early weeks of December — and a good percentage of those were likely fake.
Scammers have learned to craft their emails to mimic popular stores’ order and shipping confirmation emails. When you click on any links within those emails, such as to track the shipment or investigate the order, you will be hit with malware or taken to sites that steal valuable information. Thus, you should avoid clicking links in e-commerce emails that don’t add up. What’s more, you should arm your devices against digital attack with antivirus protection.
* Gift Exchange:
Social media offers almost unlimited ways to connect with friends and strangers. During the holidays, social media groups often arrange gift exchanges, where you will be assigned a recipient to purchase a gift for. It seems like a harmless pay-it-forward kind of goodwill — but in many cases, it is an illegal pyramid scheme.
It’s okay to use social media to give and receive gifts, but you should be doing so only amongst people you know and trust. A better idea is to meet in person, exchange addresses over text or phone call or takes other steps to be certain that a malicious scammer isn’t raking in the gifts you chose for your friends and loved ones.
* Temp Jobs:
The holidays are expensive, and to keep up with the costs of gifts, food and entertaining, many people must find supplemental employment. It isn’t uncommon to see businesses advertise seasonal work at this time, but you should be wary of businesses that ask for personal information from applicants over the web, especially if you found the position through an advertisement or shady email message.
If you are looking for temporary work, you should apply for jobs in-person, so you know your sensitive information is going to the source you expect. Plus, visiting a business’s premises is a good way to put a face to your name, ingratiating you with hiring managers and giving you a leg up on your competition.
The holidays are a time for relaxation, but fraudsters often take advantage of people’s lax attitudes to steal their data and money. Be smart online — during the holidays and all other times of year — and you won’t fall victim to a holly jolly scam.