The year-end holiday season is a time for celebration – a chance to decorate homes, splurge on gifts and gather with family and friends. It’s also a time when the scammers come out in full force.
Last year, 1 in 4 people fell victim to fraud during the holiday season. And according to Signifyd’s latest Fraud Pressure Index, which charts the percentage of high-risk transactions over the company’s commerce network, fraud is hitting an all-time high.
Fraud peaks during the year-end holidays. Scammers know that consumers, rushing around and looking for bargains, are prone to let their guards down a bit more than usual this time of year. To prepare for this spike in fraud, businesses – especially those in the retail space – should look to increase their own security measures. Investing in robust data protection and being clear about security protocols will give customers peace of mind that their personal data is secure, keeping their wallets safe this holiday season.
Consumers have a large role to play in data protection too. To protect themselves from festive fraud, they need to look at their buying patterns and anticipate the tactics that perpetrators of fraud might take. The first step is to know how to spot a scam when you see one. This isn’t always easy – fraudsters get smarter every year, and they’ve developed tactics to target consumers with season-specific content designed to look as real and appealing as possible.
Five scams you are likely to see
Fake delivery notifications: Deliveries have skyrocketed since the pandemic. A common ploy is to send a fake delivery notice in the hopes that a consumer is waiting for a package to come. The fraudulent message may look like it’s coming from a major shipper like Amazon or UPS, but it’s really a guise for malware seeking out your personal information. A fake shipping link may redirect to a counterfeit page soliciting a credit card number of personal information. Check each delivery notification closely and use the retailer’s confirmed resources to track your packages on your own.
Fake shopping sites and sellers: Supply chain shortages this holiday season promise to exacerbate the growing issue of fake retailer scams. Fraudsters are taking advantage of shortages to lure desperate gift givers into a trap. They set up fake retail websites that look like real online sites with sophisticated layouts and branding. Once the order is made, sometimes the perpetrator will send a knock-off item; other times you won’t get anything at all. One giveaway that your merchant is a fraudster is that scammers will often ask you to pay with a money order or wire transfer. Holiday shopping is no time to take chances on new, untested sites.
Fake gift cards and vouchers: Other ploys include asking a customer to pay in gift cards or sending a gift card, voucher or coupon and soliciting a small fee to activate it. Gift card payment offers are popular with scammers because cards are easy for people to buy and have fewer protections than other payment options. They operate like cash: Once they’re used, the money on the card is gone. Scammers often entice people with phone pitches, pushing them to act quickly to take advantage of a limited time offer. The caller often stays on the phone while you go to the store and load money onto the card. This is always a scam. No legitimate retailer would engage in this method of payment.
Fake charities: When the general population is thinking about giving, cyber scammers are focusing on taking. They will use any means possible, including posing as a charity, to take advantage of your good nature and extract your hard-earned cash from your pocket. The fact that one third of all charitable giving is done in December gives scammers an opening to pitch people eager to make a positive holiday gesture.
Fake travel offers: This time of year traditionally generates big increases in travel bookings with people anxious to get home for the holidays or head someplace warm on vacation. Scammers seize on this trend by creating irresistible – but fake – travel offers. The Better Business Bureau regularly puts out warnings of holiday travel scams. People may think they are receiving a holiday “deal” offering low-cost flights, rental cars, and lodging. While the travel industry does amp up its marketing over the holidays, the BBB notes that deals that appear too good to be true often aren’t true at all. Often, they’re scams.
Ways to avoid festive fraud
Now that we know what to look for, what can we do to protect ourselves and our families? Here are some simple practical tips you can follow:
Be suspicious: A little bit of suspicion goes a long way. Be on the lookout for anything unexpected, urgent requests that trigger your emotions and tempting offers. Double check the URL of the site you are visiting.
Do your research: If you’re buying from a site or seller you haven’t used before, do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to do some research before clicking the “buy” button. Find out if the company is reputable by using a review site like the Better Business Bureau. Take time to fully read the description of what you are buying. In 2020 some very disappointed eBay customers received photos of the latest PS5 console rather than the console itself. The rushed buyers didn’t read the description, which included the very important detail that it was a photo of the console that was for sale, not the console itself.
Choose your payment methods carefully: Credit cards often provide greater protections when it comes to fraud. Also consider using a virtual card, which ties to your same card account, but uses a different number. If possible, designate a single card for online purchases and keep it at a lower credit limit. Another way to protect yourself is to use a trusted payment site like PayPal. That way you aren’t sharing your card number and you have another party to contest your purchase if something goes wrong.
Set up alerts on your banking/accounts: If you become a victim of fraud, having banking alerts set up will help you spot it sooner, allowing you to limit the potential damage.
Spread the word: Talk to your friends and family about scams that are out there and the simple steps they can take to protect themselves.
Situations where people spend money more freely tend to attract fraud. That’s certainly the case during November and December, when retailers generate, on average, 19% of their annual sales.
While the recent rise in ransomware has put many businesses on high alert, triggering new investments in data protection and backup software, hackers are sophisticated and relentless – consumers must be diligent with their shopping habits as well. The holidays are a time to celebrate, but they’re also a time to be careful. A little due diligence can help limit the threats posed by festive fraud.