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‘Tis the Season for Scams

Updated: Apr 23

The holiday shopping season is at hand and an estimated $728 billion in retail spending has begun. Around $163 billion of that staggering sum will be spent online. Holiday shopping accounts for about twenty percent of all retail spending.

Stores are more crowded and more people search for deals across the internet, navigating to unfamiliar websites in search of the lowest cost. This makes the holiday season the perfect breeding ground for scams. Protect yourself from fraud and holiday scams by being aware and proactive.

Last week we recapped some fraud prevention tips. This week we’re looking at specific scams to watch out for.

Gift Card Scams

Every year new gift card scams pop up. There are multiple of these holiday scams becoming popular this year. Here are just a few.

3-Way Call Scam: What to watch for…

One holiday scam involves selling unwanted gift cards. When you sell a gift card to an individual, like through Facebook Marketplace, the scammer will ask you to confirm the balance on a card via a three-way call. The scammer records the tones from the pin number you enter to verify that the card does have funds on it. Of course, they decide not to buy the card. Then, once they have the PIN, they drain the card of its funds. Steer clear of social media posts asking to buy gift cards, especially if they’re offering 100 percent of the card’s value. If you have a gift card you want to sell, try gift card marketplaces like

Duplicate Card Scam: What to watch for...

The good news is that this holiday scam is getting harder to pull off. In this one, the scammer copies the gift card number from the back as it sits in the store waiting to be sold. If there’s a scratch-off PIN, they get that, and recover the PIN with tape they buy online. Then they wait until the card is sold. Once it’s activated, they use the money before you can. To avoid this, buy shrink wrapped cards or look for ones at the register that aren’t as easily tampered with. Or, purchase your gift cards online.

Charity Scams

Natural disasters and holidays prompt many to open their wallets. But fraudulent charities, or the unscrupulous ones, come out in droves when generosity runs high. The easiest way to avoid these scams is to always do your research.

GoFundMe Scams: What to watch for…

This newer fundraising tool often is not vetted, a prime vehicle for holiday scams. The heart wrenching stories which make their way through social media prompts blind giving to what can be bogus people. GoFundMe recommends carefully reading the campaign to see: how the campaign organizer is related to the recipient of the donation, what the purpose of the campaign is, how the funds will be used, are family and friends leaving supportive comments, is there a clear path for funds to reach the recipient, and is the recipient in control of the withdrawals. The simplest way to ensure the donation is not a scam is to only donate to people you know directly.

Phone and Postal Solicitation: What to watch for…

While this isn’t the classic scam, some of these charities end up spending most of the money you give on administration rather than mission work. You can check out a charity on websites like BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, or GuideStar.

The FTC recommends that if someone is claiming to be raising funds to give to the homeless, do a Google search for “best homeless charities” or “highly rated homeless charity.” You can also search online for the charity by name with words like review, complaint, rating, or scam.

Email and Copycat Website Scams

You think a deal is too good to be true? It probably is. All year long fraudulent and fishing emails are a real concern.

What to watch for…

Anyone can set up a shop online. It takes only a little time and know-how to make a website that claims to be something it’s not.

Online and in email, check for misspellings of familiar websites, like Amason instead of Amazon. In emails, hover over a link before you click it. And make sure to check the extension ( not If a site asks you for personal or financial information while your browsing it’s a sure sign the site isn’t legitimate.

Before buying anything, verify the site is secure by looking for the lock in the corner of the browser’s address bar. But, don’t trust a site just because the lock is there.

If you find a deal on Facebook, Instagram, your email box, or from a friend, make sure to know who you are buying from. Don’t be fooled by these holiday scams with great discounts. If you are unfamiliar with a seller, check reviews. Google them and look for complaints.

When you do shop online, use a credit card or PayPal instead of a debit card. It is much easier to recover.

Shipping Scams

You didn’t order anything, but a note appears on your door or in your mailbox stating that a package delivery was attempted. Especially around the holidays, surprise packages aren’t unheard of, and scammers take advantage.

What to watch for…

Most of these holiday scams present a realistic looking notice with a phone number to call. They will then ask you for personal information. If a shipping company asks for a credit card or your Social Security number, they aren’t legitimate.

Scammers will also try this con through email. They’ll state that there is a problem with a delivery and provide a link to correct the issue. Except the link directs you to a bogus site where they attempt to obtain personal information from you. If you see an email from UPS, USPS, or FedEx, go to the website directly instead of clicking on any links in the email.

Have a Safe and Holiday-Scam Free Holiday

Fortunately, many cyber-threats are avoidable by following a few simple guidelines. Always think twice before clicking links or visiting unknown sites. When in doubt, Google is a great resource. And as always, use strong, unique passwords, and turn on multi-factor authentication for an addition layer of security.

These are only a few ways to protect yourself. The FTC has many resources and a blog with current threats. You can sign up to receive FTC Consumer Alerts in your email here.

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