New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, a particularly dramatic Blackhawks win in overtime — whatever holiday you celebrate come the winter months, this time of year should be special. Winter is a time when people from all over come together to celebrate, reflect on the year that was, look ahead to the future, and exchange gifts.
This time of year is also when many families, individuals, and businesses give to charity more generously, and begin to set their financial affairs in place for the next calendar year. The actions you take over the holiday season can have a pretty major impact on your financial health and wellbeing — both in the short-term, and the long.
And one of the worst ways to celebrate the holidays or ring in a new year is as the victim of a scam or fraud.
Unfortunately, for many, many people here in Chicagoland and around the country, falling victim to a crime or cyberattack is an all-too-common experience.
Scams and Fraud: An Evergreen Threat Around the Holiday Season
Just as consumer activity ratchets up for the holiday season, so too do scammers, con artists, and hackers tend to amp up their malicious efforts during November, December, and January.
In fact, according to one report from CNBC, online fraud attempts rose 22 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve in 2017. In 2018, malware infections in the US jumped 123 percent between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday alone. And that’s par for the course, according to CBS News, which reports that cyberattacks tend to see 317 percent increase around the holidays, as compared to an average month.
Will this troubling trend continue throughout the 2019 holiday season? Several key signs point to “yes.” This year, roughly 75% of shoppers plan to do “half or more of their holiday shopping online,” according to a report cited by USA Today. Meanwhile, a little less than half (46%) “worry about becoming a victim of fraud” throughout the remainder of 2019.
It’s important to remember that fraud does not discriminate. As the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) points out in a blog post, “younger people reported losing money to fraud more often than older people did” in 2018. According to the FTC, 43% of people in their 20s who reported experiencing fraud suffered a financial loss to that fraud. However, individuals in their 70s tended to lose more money, on average. Per the FTC, last year’s most common scams included “imposter scams, debt collection, and identity theft” — all of which can flourish throughout the winter season.
Recognizing Common Holiday Scams
As we look ahead to 2020, there plenty of Grinches out there, ready to do whatever it takes to steal consumers’ information — and hard-earned cash — during the holidays.
What can you do to help keep yourself safe from holiday scams, cons, and cyberattacks? It helps to know what to look out for. Here are a few common types of holiday scams to prepare for this holiday shopping season, courtesy of the Better Business Bureau (BBB):
1.) Online Shopping Scams
During the holiday season, many scammers will attempt to dupe shoppers out of their hard-earned money. There are many tactics that scammers may use to get confidential information out of unsuspecting online shoppers, including setting up high quality lookalike websites to trick consumers into giving up their card number to a fake service. In other cases, products may appear on sites like Amazon or eBay at an unbelievably low discount, which could be a sign that what you’re attempting to purchase may not be real.
2.) Holiday Job Postings
During the winter months, it’s not uncommon for businesses to bring on seasonal help. But in some cases, job listings you find online may be little more than an attempt to skim personal information from would-be applicants. The BBB encourages people to apply for the job in person or by “going directly to the retailer’s website,” rather than following anonymous links. They also remind job-seekers to “be wary of anyone requiring you to hand over personal information over the phone or online before meeting for an interview” and to “be suspicious of a job that requires you to pay for equipment or software upfront.”
3.) Fake Shipping Notifications and Delivery Scams
Over the holidays, many people turn to the power of delivery services to make sure their gifts arrive where they need to be on time. But in some cases, scammers can take advantage of this by sending out “false notification emails” or calls to swipe consumers’ personal information. The BBB reminds shoppers that they will never have to pay for something on-delivery for a purchase made online, and that “delivery services do not need personal information to deliver your items.”
4.) Email Scams
If you’re a grandparent, it might be nice to get an email from a grandchild you don’t get a chance to see very often. Or, no matter what age you may be, it’s often tempting to check out offers that are sent straight to your inbox, especially if they seem to come from businesses that you trust. Knowing this, many scammers and hackers will try to get to consumers through their email inbox, particularly at this time of year. Be wary. The BBB encourages consumers not to hesitate to reach out to the person or business to verify if they actually did send an email. If you suspect foul play, just relegate unwanted emails to the spam folder. Don’t click any links, as these could be “phishing” attacks, which install malware or spyware on your computer. And, finally, the BBB reminds people to never give up personal information or wire money to someone who makes contact through an unsolicited, “out of the blue” email.
5.) Travel Scams
Have you been saving up to finally take that dream vacation you’ve been waiting for? Whether to escape the winter chill or to head home for the holidays, plenty of people hit the roads and the skies during the winter months. Knowing this, many fraudsters set traps online. The BBB advises hopeful holiday travelers to “be cautious when it comes to email offers, especially if it is from an unknown sender or company.” The watchdog group also reminds consumers to “never wire money to someone you don’t know,” ask for references, and be ready to do extensive research, especially if you’re booking with a listing service or vacation rental company.
6.) Fake Charities
The holiday season is the season for giving back. Unfortunately, recognizing this, many scammers seek to exploit people’s generosity and compassion at this time of year, by setting up fraudulent charity websites, soliciting donations over the phone or via email, or by using “GoFundMe” and similar platforms to set up fake profiles, posing as an individual in need. To avoid giving money to a fake charity, the BBB encourages consumers to thoroughly vet prospective organizations using a service such as Give.org or Charity Navigator. It may also pay to keep an eye out for “sound-alike names,” and to ensure that prospective charities “specify their plans for donations, and how they will be used to address the issues they claim to combat,” as the BBB puts it.
Protecting Your Personal Information During the Holiday Season
Armed with the information above, hopefully you’ll be able to avoid some of the common snares that target innocent consumers during the holiday season. But what about the pitfalls we create for ourselves? As it turns out, some of your routine shopping habits may be setting you up for danger, at least according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
To help generally minimize your risk of being exposed to digital scams and fraud, the FBI encourages consumers to follow some simple guidelines:
- Only purchase merchandise from a reputable source.
- Check a website’s security; secure websites will have a URL that starts with “https,” which indicates that the site is private and secure
- Be wary of any person or service that asks you to pay with a gift card, cash, or wiring money — as the FTC also points out, these methods are hard to trace or refund, and are typically how scammers prefer to make people pay
- Avoid filling out forms contained in emails asking for personal information, and be sure to scan all email attachments for viruses before opening them
- Secure your credit card and banking accounts with strong, unpredictable passwords. Be sure to regularly change your passwords and check your financial accounts for odd activity.
Here at the Gunderson Law Firm, our highly experienced attorneys and staff are happy to spread good cheer — during the holidays, and all year long. Our team brings unparalleled expertise and insight to matters of personal injury, real estate, and bankruptcy law. Have any questions? Looking for a Chicagoland lawyer you can trust? Don’t hesitate to get in touch today to get the conversation started.