The Danger Of Holiday Phishing Scams: How To Recognize And Avoid Them To Stay Safe This Holiday Season

The holiday season is in full swing, which means so are the cybercriminals! While you’re making holiday gift lists, they’re plotting and scheming new ways to take advantage of unsuspecting online shoppers. The danger of Holiday phishing scams has become an all-too-common threat, targeting customers to steal personal information, financial data and even identities. 

To help reduce the chances that a cybercriminal will ruin your much-deserved holiday fun, we’ve outlined a few of the most common and dangerous scams that you should be on the lookout for, how they work and tips to help you avoid becoming their next victim. 

Understanding Holiday Phishing Scams:

Phishing is a deceptive technique cybercriminals use to trick individuals into sharing sensitive information such as passwords, credit card details or Social Security numbers. During the holiday season, these scams often take on a festive disguise, tricking victims with holiday-themed e-mails, messages and websites. Whether you’re ordering gifts for clients or friends and family, here are some common tactics used by holiday phishing scammers to be aware of:

  1. Holiday-Themed E-mails:

    Scammers send e-mails that appear to be from trusted sources like your favorite retailers or even beloved charities. These e-mails look legit and usually offer fake exclusive holiday deals, order confirmations or requests for donations. Inside the e-mail, there is usually a link that leads to a fake website designed to steal your information or your money, or even install dangerous malware on your computer.
  2. Fake Promotions:

    Cybercriminals create fake holiday promotions and discounts that seem too good to be true. Unsuspecting victims see a great deal from a spoof e-mail account and are enticed to click on links or download attachments that can contain malware or lead to phishing websites.
    Sometimes cybercriminals aren’t looking to install malware but instead hoping to steal your money. They’ll duplicate popular retailer websites or set up their own, so when you make a purchase, they’ll collect the money, but you’ll never receive your order. These sites are often difficult to track, making it hard to get your money back.
  3. Delivery Notifications:

    With the increase in online shopping during the holidays, scammers send fake delivery notifications, claiming that a package is on its way or that there’s a problem with an order. These e-mails may prompt recipients to click on links or download attachments containing malicious software.
  4. Social Engineering:

    Scammers may impersonate friends or family members via e-mail or social media, asking for money or personal information under the guise of a holiday emergency or gift exchange. This is a common scam against seniors – who might not realize that the profile requesting money from them that was made “three days ago” isn’t actually their granddaughter – and young teenagers who don’t know fake profiles are an issue.

The Danger of Holiday Phishing Scams

Falling victim to a holiday phishing scam can have severe consequences. Let’s explore the potential risks associated with these scams:

  1. Financial Loss and Identity Theft:

    Scammers aim to trick individuals into sharing their bank account details, credit card information, or social security numbers. Once obtained, this sensitive data can be used for fraudulent purchases, draining bank accounts, or even committing identity theft.
  2. Compromised Personal and Sensitive Information:

    Phishing attacks put your personal information at risk, including addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses. Scammers can exploit this information to impersonate you or gather more data for future fraudulent activities.
  3. Malware Installation Leading to Further Security Breaches:

    Phishing emails often contain malicious links or attachments. Clicking on these can lead to the installation of malware, enabling scammers to gain unauthorized access to your device or network. This could result in further security breaches, including ransomware attacks or the theft of additional personal information.

    It’s crucial to be aware of the common types of holiday phishing scams to stay one step ahead of scammers.

Common Types of Holiday Phishing Scams

Phishing scams during the holiday season come in various forms. Scammers are adept at using different platforms to deceive potential victims. Here are some common types of holiday phishing scams:

Email Phishing Scams

  1. Fake Holiday Promotions and Gift Cards:

    Scammers send emails promising unbelievable holiday promotions or free gift cards. These emails may ask for personal details or prompt you to visit a fraudulent website to claim your reward.
  2. Fake Shipping Notifications

    : During the holiday season, we eagerly await package deliveries. Scammers take advantage of this by sending phishing emails disguised as legitimate tracking updates. These emails often contain links that lead to fake websites requesting personal information.
  3. Donation Scams Preying on People’s Goodwill

    : The holiday spirit inspires many to donate to charities or those in need. Scammers capitalize on this generosity by sending phishing emails that appear to be from legitimate charitable organizations. These emails request donations but direct unsuspecting victims to fraudulent websites where scammers gather personal information or steal funds.

Social Media Phishing Scams

  1. Fake Holiday Contests and Giveaways

    : Scammers create social media posts advertising exciting holiday contests or giveaways. These scams entice users to enter their personal information or share the post, unknowingly spreading the scam to others.
  2. Bogus Holiday Travel Deals

    Many plan holiday trips during this season, and scammers know it. They create enticing ads or social media posts offering unbelievable travel deals. Clicking on these links could lead to fake websites designed to steal personal information or money.
  3. Impersonation of Popular Brands to Deceive Users

    Scammers mimic popular brands’ social media accounts by creating fake profiles or pages. They then engage in deceptive practices such as fake contests or limited-time offers, aiming to trick users into providing personal details or making purchases on fraudulent websites.

Text Message (SMS) Phishing Scams

  1. Phony Bank Alerts and Account Verification Messages

    Scammers send text messages pretending to be from your bank, alerting you of fraudulent activities or requesting account verification. These messages often include links that lead to fake websites designed to capture personal and financial information.
  2. Fake Package Delivery Notifications

    Similar to email scams, scammers send text messages claiming to be from shipping companies and notifying you of a package delivery. These texts may request personal details or prompt you to click on a malicious link, covering up their true intention of obtaining your information.
  3. Deceptive Holiday Shopping Offers

    Scammers send enticing text messages with exclusive holiday deals or discounts. These messages often direct you to click on links leading to fake websites where personal and financial information is harvested.

Recognizing and Avoiding Holiday Phishing Scams:

Now that we understand how holiday phishing scams operate, it’s essential to know how to recognize and avoid falling victim to them.

  1. Verify The Sender

    Always check the sender’s e-mail address or domain. Be cautious of misspelled or suspicious e-mail addresses. Legitimate companies and organizations use official domains for their communication.
  2. Don’t Click On Suspicious Links

    Hover your mouse over links to see the actual URL they lead to. Be wary of shortened links or URLs that don’t match the sender’s domain. If in doubt, visit the website directly by typing the URL into your browser. 
  3. Beware Of Urgency And Pressure

    Scammers often create a sense of urgency, claiming limited-time offers or imminent problems. Take your time to verify the authenticity of any claims before taking action.
  4. Double-Check Websites

    Before entering personal or financial information on a website, ensure it’s secure. Look for “https://” in the URL, a padlock icon in the address bar and a valid SSL certificate. 
  5. Use Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

    Enable 2FA wherever possible, especially for online shopping and banking accounts. This provides an extra layer of security, even if your password is compromised. 
  6. Educate Yourself And Others

    Stay informed about current phishing tactics and share this knowledge with friends and family. The more people are aware, the harder it becomes for scammers to succeed.
  7. Protect Personal Information

    Avoid sharing sensitive information via e-mail or text messages, even if the request seems legitimate. Use secure channels for such communication. 

Additional Tips for Staying Safe

In addition to the above measures, here are some extra precautions that can enhance your online security and protect you from holiday phishing scams:

  1. Keep Software and Devices Up to Date

    Regularly update your operating system, web browsers, and antivirus software to ensure they have the latest security patches. This helps safeguard against known vulnerabilities that scammers may exploit.
  2. Use Strong, Unique Passwords

    Create strong and unique passwords for all your online accounts. Avoid using common phrases or information that can be easily guessed. Consider using a password manager to securely store and generate complex passwords.
  3. Regularly Monitor Financial Statements and Credit Reports

    Keep a close eye on your bank and credit card statements for any unauthorized transactions. Monitor your credit reports periodically to catch any signs of identity theft or fraudulent activity.
  4. Exercise Caution with Public Wi-Fi

    When accessing the internet on public Wi-Fi networks, refrain from entering sensitive information or accessing personal accounts. Hackers can easily intercept data transmitted over unsecured networks. 

While the holiday season is a time for celebration and togetherness, it’s crucial to remain vigilant against holiday phishing scams. Cybercriminals prey on the festive spirit and increased online activity during this time. By recognizing the signs of phishing attempts and following best practices for online security, you can protect yourself and ensure a safe and joyous holiday season for you and your loved ones.

Business owners: If your staff will be ordering gifts online for clients, make sure they know how to spot a phishing attack and that your network is properly secured in case something slips through the cracks. You don’t want your organization to be negatively impacted by extending holiday goodwill. If you aren’t sure if you’re protected, please give us a call or schedule a 10-minute discovery session with our team. We can help give you peace of mind this holiday season. Click here to book now, and happy holidays!