November 08, 2023
While millions of Americans search for the internet’s best deals this holiday season, cybercriminals are hard at work targeting those online shoppers.
The holiday season brings a feeling of excitement. For many people, it’s about the joy of celebration and the opportunity to connect with loved ones. For criminals, it’s about the opportunity to scam.
Yes, there are real-life Grinches and Scrooges who aren’t concerned about your happiness … or your finances. They double down at this time of year because more people are pulling out their wallets to buy gifts. So it’s important to be extremely cautious and vigilant about safety when doing your holiday shopping online.
Cybercriminals are almost as busy as the elves in Santa’s workshop when the holidays roll around. And many successful online crimes start with a phishing email, trying to hook you in with a single click.
Phishing attempts may appear to come from a legitimate source, like a well-known online retailer or financial institution. The goal is to get unsuspecting consumers to click on a malicious link, enter their credentials into a fake website, donate money to a fake charity, or purchase a deal for a product that doesn’t exist. They might be after your personal information to steal your identity, or they could be simply trying to take your money.
Luckily there are red flags you can look for.
Phishing scams usually prey on emotions, so the message will present an emergency situation, say you’ve won a prize, or offer a deal that seems too good to be true. The fraudster is using a sense of urgency to create panic. Stop, take a breath, and think it through logically before reacting to these kinds of high-pressure messages.
How do you search online for deals? Do you go to trusted vendor sites, respond to website banner ads, or click on email links? The latter two aren’t always malicious, but you should only follow email links if you signed up for those newsletters and they’re from reputable e-commerce brands. Never click on anything unsolicited, and take online ads with a grain of salt.
Research how much products normally cost so you know if a price you see advertised is reasonable. Sales are common during the holiday season, but if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. In this case, the offer might be fake, and you’ll end up with an item that doesn’t match the description — or no item at all.
Some online holiday fraud involves breaking into your accounts rather than getting you to click something. Now, sometimes that break-in attempt does occur after you click a malicious link or enter your info into a fake login page. But even if that happens, you can still be protected.
Here’s a list you can check twice to make sure your security is as strong as possible.
Even when you’re vigilant about not clicking links and you have all your accounts locked down, your personal information can still be stolen. This can happen if your connection or the website itself is not secure.
Many credit cards come with fraud protection, and laws are in place to limit your liability if your card is lost or stolen, or you’ve been scammed. For example, Credit One Bank credit cards all have Zero Fraud Liability included.
Unfortunately, debit cards don’t always have the same level of protection. You might only be responsible for up to $50 of the price for unauthorized transactions if you report it within two days. After that, it increases to $500, and you could be out the whole amount if you wait longer than 60 days. None of those scenarios are very appealing, especially when you’re in the process of buying presents.
Since the money comes straight from your bank account, a purchase dispute or unauthorized charge could also leave you without enough funds to pay your bills.
You can’t usually catch discrepancies or fraudulent transactions as they’re happening, so the next best thing is to check your bank statements. Make sure you recognize all the listed purchases, and report any suspicious activity if you don’t.
If you’d rather not wait for your statement, make it a habit to regularly look at the transactions in your bank or credit card account. Your online banking records are updated in close to real time, so you can see any suspicious activity and contact your financial institution right away.
Cybercriminals don’t care about you having happy holidays … they care about lining their own pockets. They will try to phish you, defraud you, hack you, or otherwise scam you in their pursuit to steal your money, your identity, or both.
But you can give yourself the gift of having peace of mind. Following these tips will empower you to stay safe, avoid holiday scams, and just say no to all the online Grinches and Scrooges.
For over a quarter of a century, Heather has been working as a journalist in all media: TV, radio, print, and online. After establishing her career in Toronto, she has been living, working, and playing in Las Vegas for the past decade. She loves pulling apart complicated topics to make them simple, fun, and easy to understand, especially in the business and financial niches. But she also enjoys writing about the personal side of life, including success, relationships, families, and pets. She approaches everything from a yin-yang perspective, so her passion for wordplay and entertaining metaphors is always balanced with an intense (and some would say annoying) focus on facts and accuracy.
This material is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified tax advisor, attorney or financial advisor. Readers should consult with their own tax advisor, attorney or financial advisor with regard to their personal situations.