How to spot holiday scams

Scam artists take advantage of our kindness and hit where it is least expected turning holiday cheer into holiday fear. How to avoid fraud and what to do if you have already been scammed?

The good news is that it’s not very difficult to fend off holiday scams as long as you know how to spot them and use safe holiday tips.

Top 7 holiday scams:

Here is the list of the most common holiday scams you should be aware of:

  1. Holiday vacation scams;
  2. Phishing scams;
  3. Charity scams;
  4. Gift card scams;
  5. Holiday social media scams;
  6. Holiday job scams;
  7. Shopping scams.

1. Holiday vacation scams

These scams are most commonly found around large holidays such as Christmas, Halloween, or Thanksgiving. A lot of people plan to make bulk purchases or to go on vacation. Scammers need to draw your attention before they could take your money. And they pull really sophisticated schemes for this.

For example, free or discounted vacations. You receive a call informing you that you have won a destination vacation. You should book immediately providing personal information and a credit card number to make a deposit to guarantee a trip.

Another alternative involves online bookings. Con artists construct web sites identical to those operated by reputable travel agencies and trick people into booking fake vacation resorts where full payment is required. Fraudsters often post a destination property for rent online on popular web resources. Once you contact a renter, you are asked to make a deposit on the rental.

How to avoid holiday vacation scams

You should always be aware of specials being too good to be true. If something looks extremely cheap, try to do as much research as possible. Surf the Internet for company reviews before committing to a purchase.

One consumer griped to that became a victim of a free vacation.
“…Nothing free guys. It’s just a wastage of time visiting the country club office. They offered a Bangkok trip voucher with 6 nights 7 days by saying you don’t need to pay a penny. But that’s not true. But you have to pay 5500 rs non-refundable in advance in the off-season…”

Before going on holiday, spend time doing your homework, and plan your vacation carefully, choose the place to go, where to stay, and what to do.

2. Phishing scams

Phishing is a method of website and e-mail spoofing. Scammers use spam, e-mails, instant messages, or fake websites being constructed to look identical to real ones to fool people into divulging sensitive information. It could be credit card numbers, bank account passwords, etc.

There are a lot of tricky scenarios for a victim to take a fisher’s bait and forget about holiday safety. For example, you’ve decided to use some coupons or shopping deals to make online purchases, scammers use fake order confirmation e-mails to get access to sensitive data on your PC. They attempt to trick you into clicking links, downloading attachments, or opening messages. If you respond to any phishing scam, a scammer will be able to hijack your credentials and to use them for illegal purposes.

How to avoid phishing scam

Never open messages from unknown senders! Never provide personal information to any unsolicited requests! Do not click on any links or open attachments you are not sure of. Do not let scammers spread trackers, viruses, or other malware on your device.

3. Charity scams

Fake charity scams ramp up just before Christmas, Thanksgiving, and other large holidays. They take advantage of your generosity. A scammer poses himself/herself as a genuine charity. His or her task is to make you agree to donate or to give up your credit card information.

This can be done in a number of different ways. For example, you may be approached in the street. You may also receive fake e-mails requesting donations. Scammers can create websites identical to those operated by real charity organizations. They will do everything to con you into thinking you really give to charity. These scams are nasty because they divert donations away from legitimate charities.

How to avoid charity scam

Beware of fake websites, text messages, and/or e-mails, especially if you are asked to transfer donations. Pay attention to name similarities. Do not donate to unfamiliar organizations on the spot. Be cautious if you hear too many emotional appeals. It is a red flag. If possible, complete research or consult with reputable organizations to be sure your money is going to a cause you’ve decided to support.

4. Gift card scams

Gift card scams refer to identity theft. They happen very often during the holiday season when people hunt for perfect deals. Scammers trick buyers into paying with gift cards from popular brands. In general, the damage is limited to the value of a gift card.
Another popular scenario is when scammers jot down a gift card number and wait several days for its activation. As soon as it is loaded with money, scammers shop online on the store’s website.

How to avoid gift card scams

So, if you do not want to lose your money, buy gift cards directly from retailers behind the store counter. It’s a prerequisite for holiday safety. And do not forget to take a receipt. It is proof of proper gift card activation. However, you’d rather buy gift cards with a scratch-off panel.

5. Holiday social media scams

Social media scams move very quickly on the Web. It is one of the most common Christmas scams. They can take a lot of forms.

One of the most famous scams is known as Gift Exchange and pops up every holiday season on Facebook. You get a message from a friend inviting you to take part in a secret gift exchange. Your task is to purchase one gift and send it to a certain address. You are promised to receive many gifts in return a bit later. It sounds good, isn’t it? In fact, it is a pyramid scheme. All participants can be accused of mail fraud. And you won’t get any gifts.

Another social media scam is very popular on Twitter. For example, you are looking for a particular holiday gift. Having posted a tweet about it, you receive messages from other users offering a product you want to purchase. Be careful! It could be a scam.

How to avoid holiday social media scams

Do not accept offers from people you hardly know. And do not pay upfront if you are going to buy a gift in this way. You can be taken advantage of.

Take a look at the example of a gift exchange inviting letter. It is a typical Secret Sister Gift Exchange scam. It claims that you should buy a gift for only one secret sister, and you will get several in return.

6. Holiday job scams

A lot of retailers hire temporary workers for the pre-holiday season. They are required to handle the influx of shoppers who hunt for Christmas presents. So, people who need some extra money trying to find an unofficial secondary job. But do not apply for every job you see since you can come across fake job offers. Such scams are used to steal your personal information or money.

How to avoid holiday job scams

You should always remember that no legitimate job requires any payment in advance. In case an employer asks you to buy something or to pay for a training course, don’t waste your time and go away. You can check information about the company and find safe holiday tips on the Internet. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

7. Shopping scams

This type of scam is the most popular during Christmas time when consumers around the world are searching for gifts for their loved ones.

You can be scammed both online and in-store. Scammers often create fake websites of legitimate retailers even with similar URLs. And if you shop on your mobile device you can hardly notice the difference because of a shorter address field. Scammers hope that you will do a mistake and provide your credit card number or personal information. Another serious danger is bogus apps. Frequently, they have specific malware designed to steal users’ personal info. Or you can be prompted to login using your Facebook account, revealing your personal data as well.

How to avoid shopping scams

It’s better to use merchants’ native applications and official websites. Never click on suspicious links. And always create unique logins, difficult-to-guess passwords, and use two-level authentication.

Consumers who prefer shopping in-store can also leave themselves vulnerable to scammers forgetting about holiday safety. It is necessary to check a current account and credit card statements on a regular basis. There are thieves who look over your shoulder when you are entering your PIN. These “shoulder surfers” can easily use these data to steal your money. And do not forget about pick-pockets who like busy shopping times. They can easily pick your pocket without you realizing it. Pick-pockets operate in crowded places or in close quarters.

General tips on how to avoid holiday scams

  1. Shop on trusted and verified websites. If you want to avoid fraud you shouldn’t use sites you have never heard of.
  2. Complete thorough research surfing the Internet for reviews.
  3. Do not make purchases using public Wi-Fi. It is not very difficult for cybercriminals to hack unsecured Wi-Fi, getting access to your data.
  4. Use a secure network connection. Shop on sites with a valid “HTTPS” connection.
  5. Take screenshots and keep all receipts.
  6. Monitor all transactions on your cards on a regular basis.
  7. If you are not sure of a website or a company, check it out on an online reviews website where buyers share their shopping experience.

It is necessary to say that in the case of holiday scams, you should keep a cold mind and act quickly. Contact your financial institution and close all accounts which can be compromised. Remember that the best protection is prevention and precaution.

Joanna Clark Simpson
Joanna Clark Simpson
Joanna is interested in journalism from a young age. Her work at gives her a choice to analyze consumer experiences. In her articles, she provides consumers with useful information and tips to avoid unpleasant issues and scams.
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