6 Common Phishing Scams During the Holiday Season

Phishing scams are deceptive tactics cybercriminals use to trick individuals into revealing personal or sensitive information. These scams often involve fake emails or websites that mimic legitimate ones, aiming to steal data like passwords, credit card numbers or social security details.

During the holiday season, there’s a notable spike in such scams. This increase is due to this period’s higher volume of online shopping and digital communication. Scammers use the busy season and people’s distractions to craft more convincing and compelling phishing attacks.

Cybersecurity enthusiasts would appreciate knowing these scams often exploit holiday-themed lures — such as special offers or urgent requests — to bypass users’ usual vigilance.

1.  Fake Shipping Notifications

Scammers using fake delivery messages capitalize on the shared online shopping experience, especially during busy times like the holiday season. In 2022, phishing attacks affected more than 300,000 individuals in the U.S. Here’s how they do it:

  • Crafting convincing messages: Scammers create emails or text messages that look like they’re from legitimate delivery services, complete with logos and branding.
  • Urgent delivery alerts: These messages often claim an issue with package delivery, invoking a sense of urgency. They may say additional information is needed to complete the delivery.
  • Phishing links or attachments: The message typically includes a link or attachment supposedly for tracking the package or resolving the delivery issue.
  • Stealing information: When clicked, these links lead to fake websites that harvest personal data, or they may download malware onto the user’s device.

Understanding this tactic allows you to better spot such scams and avoid falling victim to them. The key is to be wary of unsolicited messages and verify the authenticity of any communication regarding package deliveries.

2.  Holiday Coupons and Deals

These scams involve advertising products or services at meager prices. You’ll often see these offers on various websites, in social media feeds or through targeted email campaigns. Scammers understand people search for the best holiday gift deals.

The scam unfolds when the user completes a purchase. As they enter their personal and financial details, scammers capture this sensitive information, leading to potential identity theft or financial fraud.

Another expected outcome of these scams is the issue of non-delivery or receipt of inferior products. After making a payment, customers often find the ordered product never arrived. In cases where the customer receives a package, it’s usually of much lower quality than advertised.

3.  Charity Donation Frauds

These include fake charity appeals, where scammers create counterfeit campaigns for timely or emotionally charged causes. They might use fraudulent websites or send mass emails seeking donations. The emotional manipulation in these scams is consequential — they use compelling stories and images to elicit sympathy, knowing the holiday season’s spirit makes people more responsive to such appeals.

The danger lies in collecting personal and financial information under the guise of donations. Individuals fill out forms with their details, believing they’re helping a legitimate cause, but in reality, this information and the funds go to the scammers.

4.  Fake Holiday Jobs

Scams targeting seasonal job seekers involve fake job listings, which can appear on reputable job search websites, social media or unsolicited emails. These listings usually offer high pay for simple tasks to attract many applicants. The attractive nature of these offers, especially during the high-demand holiday season, makes them particularly compelling.

The scam unfolds as perpetrators ask job seekers for upfront payments, supposedly for training, background checks or equipment deposits — a major red flag as legitimate jobs rarely require such fees. Additionally, the application process often involves providing personal and sensitive information, putting applicants at risk of identity theft.

5.  Phishing Emails for Holiday Travel

Scammers create fake travel deal websites that closely resemble legitimate agencies, offering irresistibly low-priced deals. They also reach potential victims through phishing emails and online ads promoting exclusive travel offers.

The danger intensifies when customers make payments, often finding their bookings are nonexistent, with confirmation details wholly fabricated. Another common scam involves posing as owners of vacation rentals or timeshares, requiring upfront payments for properties that either don’t exist or aren’t available for rent.

Using two separate email addresses can significantly enhance online security. A typical internet user possesses up to 150 online accounts. And by dedicating one email for personal use and another for sensitive activities — like banking, shopping or work — you can effectively segregate important communication.

6.  Fake Gift Cards

These scams often involve setting up counterfeit websites that sell gift cards at seemingly discounted rates, closely imitating legitimate retailers to gain trust. Scammers also use phishing emails and social media ads to promote these fake deals, using well-known store branding to enhance their credibility.

Another tactic in these scams is the promise of software or tools that can generate gift card codes, which, in reality, are malware that infects the user’s device. Buying gift cards directly from official retailer websites or physical stores is crucial to avoid these scams.

It’s also crucial to be cautious of email or social media gift card offers, especially if the deals seem attractive. Even if you have spam filters, these tools are only 95% effective at best. So, always verify the website’s authenticity before purchasing and avoid downloading any software claiming to create gift card codes.

How to Identify and Avoid These Scams

Spotting phishing attempts and adhering to best practices for online safety are crucial in the digital age. Here are some tips:

  • Use two-factor authentication (2FA): Enabling 2FA adds a layer of security, making it harder for attackers to access your accounts, even if they have your password.
  • Look for suspicious email addresses and URLs: Check the sender’s email address and hover over any links without clicking. Phishing emails often come from addresses that mimic legitimate ones but differ slightly.
  • Beware of urgent or threatening language: Phishing attempts frequently use compulsory language to create a sense of panic, prompting quick, thoughtless actions. Be wary of emails demanding immediate action, especially those involving financial transactions or personal information.
  • Check for spelling and grammar mistakes: Professional organizations typically send well-written communications. Poor grammar and spelling can be a sign of a phishing attempt.

Following these guidelines can significantly reduce the risk of phishing scams and maintain high online safety.

Navigating the Digital Waves Wisely

As people embrace the joy and busyness of the season, remember to practice safe online habits. Verify the legitimacy of offers and websites, be cautious with personal and financial information and always think twice before clicking links or attachments.

People can enjoy the holidays while keeping their digital lives secure by staying informed and vigilant. Make cyber safety a priority this holiday season and beyond.