Holiday fraud 2021: Developing trends and ways to protect yourself

Security tips
 | 
December 16, 2021

The holiday season brings an influx of activities involving making purchases, booking travel plans, giving to seasonal charities, and more. With this ramp-up comes the potential for fraud to rear its ugly head.  

Fortunately, with a bit of planning and forethought, you can drastically reduce the chances of holiday fraud. This article will prepare you to protect your identity and avoid scams so that the holiday season can be fun, enjoyable, and without worry.

Holiday fraud and identity theft trends

We’ll begin by going over some of the recent trends we see in holiday fraud and then give some critical tips on preventing any of these from happening to you.

Phishing increases related to massive online shopping outlets

Every holiday season, we see a spike in phishing attempts focusing on online shopping sites, such as Amazon. During the holidays, fraudsters target seasonal items in their messaging and create fraudulent offers for those items. Though SMS attempts are increasingly popular, these offers are most frequently targeted to email.

The first step in avoiding this type of holiday phishing is to be aware of it. Simply knowing that this is an increased possibility around this time of year gives you a better shot at detection if one of these deceptive emails lands in your inbox.

The second step is to evaluate the offer. Chances are you won’t get a “75% off your order” coupon or “Free $500 gift card” to any major online shopping platform. In most cases, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Finally, verify the website you’re on before making any purchases. If you clicked on a link in an email or text - check the site for validity by looking carefully at the URL. Is it a secure site? Legitimate ecommerce sites will have an ‘https’ instead of ‘http’ at the beginning. Is the URL spelled correctly?  A common tactic is to slightly misspell the domain name or use a .net or .biz URL when the genuine site is .com. To be safe – go directly to the real site by typing it into your browser and avoiding clicking on the link if you’re at all suspicious.

Increased prevalence of fake charities

Holidays bring out the best in us, often increasing our generosity and kindness – something fraudsters also exploit. Fake charity fraud is rampant in the holiday season, with fraudsters reaching out under the guise of helping our fellow human beings to lower our guard.

To avoid being taken advantage of, verify all charitable sources before completing any transaction or dishing out any personal information. If the charity exists and has a website, the next step is to make sure they’re legitimate. Charity Navigator is a helpful website that ranks different charities. You can also check if the charity is officially registered to operate in your area.

Shipping communication scams

Online shopping is increasingly popular especially during the holiday season, leading to a massive spike in shipping this time of year.  With increased shipping comes – you guessed it – increased shipping scam attempts. Many are emails asking you to verify login details on an ecommerce vendor or shipping services website for “your recent purchase/order”.

The first thing to remember is not to let your guard down. Victims of shipping fraud have reported receiving emails almost immediately after purchasing something, which gave them confidence that it was from a legitimate source. Always make sure you’re on a legitimate website whenever you’re verifying login or other details.

Going directly to the legitimate site and avoiding clicking on suspicious links is one of the best ways to protect yourself. For example, if you receive a message asking you to click a link to verify your recent purchase shipping, you should instead open a web browser and navigate to the actual site and not click the link.

Fighting back against fraud and identity theft this holiday season

The following are some easy-to-do steps that will make it extremely difficult for any fraudster to damage your accounts or identity.

Strengthen your passwords in more ways than one

There are some basic password practices that everyone should know and adhere to, such as:

  • Change passwords regularly
  • Don’t use the same passwords across different sites
  • Use passphrases or create lengthy passwords that include symbols and numbers
  • Implement a password manager tool

Personal data theft and leaks – including passwords – are unfortunately commonplace today. As a result, even the best passwords and the most stringent practices are still at risk. That’s why adding multifactor authentication (MFA) is so critical to your online security. Enforcing MFA (especially for important accounts) dramatically lowers your risk of account takeovers due to password theft.

Keep personal details closer to the chest

Sharing is great, but the information you share online can be used to steal your identity or takeover important accounts. Because fraudsters are out in force during the holiday season, you should take extra care to scrutinize how you share your personal details, including responding to strange emails, answering calls from unknown phone numbers, and entering data onto questionable website forms. This advice, of course, holds true the other 11 months of the year, too.

Maintain a strong awareness of your credit

There are plenty of free websites to keep track of your credit score, including notifying you when new accounts are opened in your name. With the increased likelihood of a fraudulent attack, the holidays are the perfect time to improve your credit awareness. One of the most important things is to turn on notifications, whether on your phone or email, to be alerted the minute something changes with your accounts.

Verify and limit digital shopping sources

Holiday shopping can lead us down many different rabbit holes, putting us on many obscure and unknown sites in our quest to find that perfect gift. While this can be helpful to find the best price or rare items, it makes for a riskier overall holiday experience. If possible, try to limit the sites you shop to reduce your chance of being scammed. If your gift list requires you to shop at numerous sites, be sure to verify each site’s validity each time you make a purchase.

The holidays are all about spending time with friends and family. Taking a few simple steps to protect yourself from fraud and identity theft will ensure you spend your days laughing and enjoying company and not scrambling to file reports to your credit card company.  

From all of us – we wish you a happy, safe, and secure holiday season!

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