2023 Hacking Around the Holidays

As the holiday season draws near, there is an unfortunate uptick in various scams aimed at catching unsuspecting individuals off guard. This piece will explore the most prevalent holiday scams and offer essential tips to shield yourself from becoming a victim of these deceptive schemes. Ranging from phishing emails and package delivery scams to counterfeit travel websites, text/phone call scams, charity scams, and gift card scams, it is imperative to stay well-informed and exercise caution during this festive period. By adhering to these guidelines and remaining vigilant, you can guarantee a secure and joyous holiday season spent with your loved ones.

You can also read more on 2022’s Hacking Around the Holidays article here for additional tips.

Phishing Emails Increase During the Holidays

Phishing emails pose a year-round threat, with a notable surge during the holiday season. Scammers employ deceptive tactics, sending emails that appear legitimate, often mimicking trusted organizations. These emails typically request recipients to click on links or divulge personal information. Exercise caution and verify the sender’s authenticity before taking any actions.

To safeguard yourself from phishing emails, watch out for the following:

  • Be cautious of emails urging you to update or verify your information, especially those threatening account suspension or closure if you fail to comply.
  • Prior to clicking on any links, scrutinize the sender’s email address and the URL for subtle differences or misspellings that may indicate a fraudulent source.
  • Refrain from opening unexpected or nonsensical attachments, as they could contain viruses or other malicious software.
  • Implement a spam filter and maintain up-to-date antivirus software on your device to enhance protection.
  • If you encounter suspicious emails, promptly report them to the claimed company or organization, and delete them from your inbox to mitigate potential risks.

Steer Clear of Package Delivery Scams

As the holiday season prompts a surge in online shopping, there is a concurrent rise in package delivery scams. Scammers often deploy tactics such as sending fraudulent delivery notifications or demanding payment for redelivery. It is crucial to exercise caution and verify the legitimacy of such messages by double-checking the delivery company’s website or directly contacting them.

To steer clear of package delivery scams, consider the following precautions:

  • Refrain from clicking on links or calling back numbers provided in unexpected delivery notices.
  • Directly contact the delivery service or seller using a verified number or website to confirm the authenticity of the notification.
  • Employ a spam filter and ensure your device has updated antivirus software for added protection.
  • Swiftly report any suspicious messages to the claimed company or organization and promptly delete them from your inbox to mitigate potential risks.

Watch Out for Fake Travel Websites

If you’re planning a holiday getaway, exercise caution when dealing with enticing travel websites offering deals that seem too good to be true. Thoroughly research any travel agency and opt for reputable booking platforms to avoid falling prey to these scams.

Key indicators of a fake travel website include:

  • Lack of a secure connection (https) or a padlock icon in the address bar.
  • Encouragement to pay via wire transfer, gift card, or other untraceable methods.
  • Absence of a clear cancellation or refund policy, or imposition of high fees for changes or cancellations.
  • Missing physical address, phone number, or email contact, or unresponsive and invalid contact information.
  • Presence of negative reviews, complaints, or an absence of reviews altogether.

Guard Against Text Message & Phone Call Scams

Scammers often employ text messages or phone calls, falsely claiming you’ve won a prize or owe unpaid bills. Resist sharing sensitive information or making payments without verifying the legitimacy of the call or message.

To shield yourself from text/phone call scams:

  • Avoid clicking on links, opening attachments, calling back numbers, or providing information in response to unsolicited messages or calls.
  • Directly contact the legitimate company or organization using verified contact details to confirm the authenticity of the message or call.
  • Utilize a spam filter and maintain up-to-date antivirus software on your device.
  • Report any suspicious messages or calls to the claimed company or organization, and promptly delete them from your inbox.

Is the Charity Legit?

The holiday season, with its spirit of generosity and goodwill, often prompts individuals to engage in charitable giving. Unfortunately, scammers are quick to exploit this sentiment, preying on the kindness of those looking to make a positive impact.  Scammers frequently create seemingly legitimate organizations, complete with compelling stories and emotional appeals, to deceive potential donors. To ensure that your charitable efforts have the intended positive impact, consider the following guidelines:

  • Research the charity before making a donation and / or contact them directly. Legitimate organizations are transparent about their mission, goals, and how they utilize funds. Use reputable online resources, such as charity watchdog websites or official government databases, to verify the authenticity of the charity.
  • Check whether the charity you’re considering is officially registered and compliant with the necessary regulations. This information can usually be found on official government websites or the charity’s own platform.
  • Look for organizations that disclose how they allocate funds, detailing the percentage that goes directly to the cause versus administrative expenses. Financial statements and annual reports are often available on the charity’s official website.
  • Be wary of charities that employ aggressive fundraising techniques, especially if they make unsolicited phone calls or use emotional appeals that seem designed to rush your decision.
  • Look for reviews and testimonials from other donors who have supported the charity. If you find numerous complaints or warnings, it’s a red flag that warrants further investigation.
  • Legitimate organizations use secure payment gateways and provide confirmation receipts for your contributions.

Stay Vigilant Against Gift Card Scams

While gift cards are a popular holiday gift, scammers find ways to exploit them. Avoid sharing gift card numbers or PINs with strangers, and purchase them only from reputable retailers.

General Tips to Protect Yourself From Holiday Scams

While the holiday season is synonymous with giving, it’s crucial to remain vigilant and safeguard yourself from potential scams. By staying informed and exercising caution, you can enjoy a safe and joyous holiday season with your loved ones.

  • Maintain skepticism toward unsolicited emails, messages, or calls.
  • Verify the legitimacy of any request for personal or financial information.
  • Research organizations or websites before engaging with them during the holiday season.
  • Utilize strong, unique passwords for online accounts and enable two-factor authentication.
  • Keep devices and security software up to date.
  • Trust your instincts; if something feels off, exercise caution. If it seems too good to be true, it likely is.
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