When the holidays come around, we're all searching (even more than usual) for the best deals possible to check off those items on our wishlists. However, this is also one of the most active times of year for criminals. So how do we save ourselves from holiday scams? We have to know what to watch out for! These are some of the most dangerous holiday shopping scams—and once you learn to recognize them—you will be well on your way to avoiding them!

1. The "package waiting" scam.

In this scam, criminals will send you a notification that a package for you has been delayed, re-routed, or left at a local postal office, UPS, or FedEx office. Typically the notification comes by text or email and prompts you to click a link or fill out a form (full of sensitive personal data, of course!) to claim your package.

  • What they want: To infect your device with a virus and steal your identity.
  • What to do: Call the postal service, UPS, or FedEx office to confirm the package is waiting for you and delete the alert. Legitimate package claims will always generate a phone call to the customer, not a text or email.

2. The "illegal account activity" scam.

In this increasingly popular scam, criminals will send you an email or text stating that suspicious activity has been detected on your account. You may be prompted to fill in a form or call a specific number.

  • What they want: To get your home address and other sensitive information to steal your identity.
  • What to do: Ignore and delete these messages. If you are concerned, call your institution directly to inquire about your account security.

3. The "fake refund" scam.

Oh boy—this one is really hard to spot! In this scam, criminals send you a text or email stating that you have been issued a refund. It will probably say the refund is coming from a retailer you know like Amazon or eBay. You will be prompted to click on a link to claim your refund.

  • What they want: To infect your device with malware and steal your identity.
  • What to do: Delete the messages. If you really are expecting a refund, call the merchant to inquire about status.

4. The "click jacking" coupon scam.

For you and me, coupons are an area where we may be particularly vulnerable to criminals. In this scam, you are prompted to scan a QR code into your device in order to claim a coupon for a discount or freebie.

  • What they want: To access and download your entire browsing history so they can steal your identity.
  • What to do: Take care when choosing which QR codes to scan. Any code that trumpets "it's free!" or promises something that sounds too good to be true is likely a scam. Any fuzzy coupon is likely fraudulent. And any unsecured website (the unsecure "http" versus the secure "https") is one to be avoided.

5. The "phony retailer" scam.

This web-based scam aims to reel you in by offering a legitimate-looking website (often for a retailer whose name you trust) that holds out a better deal than you've found elsewhere.

  • What they want: By building a fake but "real looking" website and prompting you to make an online purchase, they can steal your sensitive financial data. You will never receive the item you paid for, and they will empty your accounts while you wait.
  • What to do: Do a thorough review of any website that you are thinking about using to make a purchase. Many of these sites do look quite legitimate with only a quick scan. But look closer and you will see misspellings, broken links, fuzzy graphics, odd URL links, and other telltale signs. When in doubt, do your own Internet search and see what comes up for the "real" retailer!

6. The "social media" scam.

This scam uses social media to reach out to you with bogus content containing malware.

  • What they want: To infect your device with malware that can collect sensitive data and steal your identity (plus all your cash).
  • What to do: Be very careful when "liking" fan pages, accepting new "friends," and clicking on links you receive via social media. Even if the link comes from a legitimate known friend, they may be the victim of account hacking.

7. The "malicious app" scam.

Apps have become a new way for criminals to easily obtain information you would never give out otherwise.

  • What they want: To obtain information about your identity that allows them to hack your accounts and take your money.
  • What to do: If you plan to download an app, go to a legitimate source (such as the Apple or Chrome store) to get it. Before you download, read the user reviews and do an Internet search on the app name. Finally, read the app's individual permission policies to see what it will ask for as part of the download process. If at any time something feels off, walk away.

8. The "must have it" scam.

Criminals know just as well as you and me what items and gifts are super "hot" this year (iPhone 6, Samsung Note 4, PlayStation 4, etc.) Whether it is on your personal Black Friday wishlist or on your child's holiday list, you can bet scammers are just as aware as you are.  These crooks will play on your burning desire to obtain "it" (typically because it is nearly impossible to obtain, or even out of stock completely).

  • What they want: To collect your payment and steal your financial data.
  • What to do: If anything—the pricing, the delivery time, the availability—seems too good to be true, trust that it is and walk away. If an unsolicited "deal" comes your way, ignore it.

9. The "holiday traveler" scam.

This scam plays on heavy holiday travel to take travelers for everything they have (financially, that is). Fake online travel links are all over the place, so don’t fall for this one!

  • What they want: To get you to pay for travel, lodging, transportation, and other travel necessities so they can access your accounts.
  • What to do: Be sure you book travel only through reputable agencies or online sources. Thoroughly research any website before you submit online payment to be sure the site is secure and legitimate. Use a credit card (never cash, check, or a debit card) so you have some security against fraud. Purchasing travel insurance is also wise.

10. The "fake classifieds" scam.

Print and online classifieds (like Craigslist) can be breeding grounds for criminal activity. Whether you are looking for a great deal on a vintage item, a gently used smart device, a part-time holiday job, or a "work from home" opportunity, you are as likely these days to encounter a scam as you are a legitimate offer.

  • What they want: To obtain personal information in the name of conducting the transaction or vetting you for employment—then they can obtain your cash and your identity.
  • What to do: Never give out any personal information over the phone, email, or through text. Always take someone with you to pick up and pay for an item (even if the other party is buying from you) and meet in a public place. If you’re selling an item, deal locally and only take cash. If you still have doubts, pass on the offer or opportunity.


10 Dangerous Holiday Shopping Scams and How to Avoid Them