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2022 Holiday Shopping Scams: How To Stay Safe While Shopping for the Holidays

What are Holiday Scams?

Scammers attempt to take advantage of the fact that everyone is shopping, both online and in store, to trick them into falling for several schemes.

“Nearly 75% of Americans experienced at least one type of holiday scam last year.” (Aura, Fraud Protection)

The FBI reports that each year holiday scams like this run rampant and In 2021 alone, Americans lost over $6.9 billion to fraudsters, including $337 million in online shopping and non-delivery scams. [*].

What are the most common Holiday shopping scams to be aware of?

AARP has recently released a study that showcases the risks holiday shoppers face during this season and can be broken down into the following categories:

CHARITY SCAMS - 38% of people received a request for monetary donation to a fake/fraudulent charity organization.

The holiday season is a great time to donate to those who need it most. Unfortunately, scammers are taking advantage of our goodwill and creating fake charities to trick us into giving them our money instead.

“Legitimate charities – those whose fundraisers pass through most of the donations to the actual cause – need support. They, just like you, lose out when a criminal intervenes.” (Source: AARP)

How to avoid charity fraud

If you’re looking to donate during this time, here’re a few tips for how to do it safely:

Do your research.

  • Make sure the organization you want to donate to is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

  • Beware of “charities” that use names similar to existing charities to legitimize themselves.

  • Check carefully before giving – you’re best off sticking to well-known organizations that have a history of work in the field.

  • Be wary of all messages even from trusted sources unless you verify that the message is authentic. To do this, contact said source by other means than the one by which you received it, e.g., by googling the official phone number or email, etc.

Be skeptical & Never act quickly.

  • The pressure to act quickly is a red flag; a real charity will take your donation when you are ready to provide it.

  • Don’t give in to undue pressure – fraudsters will attempt to use the urgency of the situation to rush you into donating.

  • Be skeptical of social media posts that promote a charity unless you verify that the organization is legitimate. The friend recommending it may not have done their research and the number of likes for a social media post doesn’t say much about its legitimacy, either.

  • Avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments in unsolicited emails or social media messages, particularly from unknown sources and those that add to the sense of alarm. They may attempt to lure you into unwittingly downloading malware onto your device.

Type of payment is important.

  • Be wary of requests to wire money or send gift cards. Established charities don’t normally request this kind of ‘donation’.

  • Less common forms of payment are also a red flag, though criminals may seek checks, cash or credit card payments as well. (Always opt for a credit card, which carries greater consumer protections than other payment forms.)

  • Donate your money via the organization’s website or approach the charity directly for guidance.

You can also use websites like, Charity Watch, or Charity Navigator to look for other established charities.

35% of people experienced fraud when buying a product through an online ad (social media scams)

Over the past few years, scammers have leveraged various social media outlets, like Instagram and Facebook, to sell us dodgy clothing, accessories, homegoods, and technology. The products tend to look really nice and believable online, but when they arrive at your door they are often not the quality you paid for and in some cases they might not come at all. When we reach out to the “companies” to complain, many reply by politely explaining that they will not offer a full refund.

Here are the 9 most common signs to look for (according to Reader’s Digest 2022):

1. No contact address on their website

When you click on a brand website, there is typically a place to contact customer service. Whether that contact link is an email, phone number, or mailing address, there is always some sort of headquarters, even if it’s just the creator’s basement. If you are unable to trace the brand back to someone or someplace, then it most likely doesn’t exist.

2.The URL doesn’t begin with https://

A link beginning with https:// means that the website has an SSL certificate. This means that all website traffic is encrypted, secure, and cannot be read. This prevents third parties from hacking into the communication between your website and the user. When your website has an active SSL certificate the application protocol (the very first part of a URL) changes from HTTP to HTTPS.

3. The image seems a little skewed

The aspect ratio of the image may seem a little off, a specific portion of the image may seem blurry or the brand watermark is in an odd location. This could be an attempt to crop the original watermarked image. It would be best to conduct a reverse Google image search to reveal if it is actually the content of the brand/page promoting it or plagiarized from another company.

4. It asks for your credit card information immediately

A major red flag is if the link opens and immediately asks for your credit card or payment information before obtaining an email or other contact/shipping information, it is likely a scam aiming to steal your money.

5. No sponsored logo

You may have noticed that ads on Instagram and Facebook are marked with a sponsored logo up at the top and #ad in the caption. Many of fake advertisements include links to purchase but are not tagged as ads officially on Instagram and Facebook to avoid being found out by the platform.

6. There are very few hashtags

Brands on Instagram will use as many hashtags as possible to reach more people. Alex Perkins, Founder of All The Stuff explains that if the ad does not use a single hashtag, it may be because they don’t want the post to circle back to the original brand to find out they have stolen their product.

7. The ad is too good to be true

Many scammers entice users with the money-saving aspect of advertising since most people will jump at the opportunity to save a few dollars. They know that many consumers can’t resist a good deal.

8. Check the ratio of followers to engagement

Have you ever come across accounts that have thousands of followers, but the posts have hardly any engagement? It seems a bit suspicious, right? “These accounts buy fake followers just to look authentic,” claims Susan Thompson, a Digital Marketing Manager. “But buying likes and comments on each post is not as easy. So, if you see a discrepancy I would recommend not proceeding further.”

9. You are unable to comment on the photo

A dead giveaway that a Social Media ad is counterfeit is that a user can’t comment using certain words or may not even be able to post a comment altogether. Very few businesses choose to turn off comments on their ads so disabled comments could be a red flag.

PACKAGE DELIVERY SCAMS - 34% received a fake notification about a shipment issue

With the upcoming holiday season, millions of Americans are taking this year's gift shopping online. Criminals know there's a great chance you might be waiting on a package and are ready to take advantage.

UPS recently put out a statement warning their customers about scammers that are sending out text messages impersonating them in an effort to gain access to your phone, private information, and eventually bank accounts.

The Federal Trade Commision (FTC) reported that in 2021 alone, over $131 million was lost to package delivery text message scams.

Making sure you are aware of the signs of these scams is vital to protecting yourself from falling victim.

These messages are written extremely informally, with a lack of detail about your package, and none of the website links are to the official UPS website (UPS official URLs are ‘’ and ‘’)

If you do click on a link sent in one of these UPS scam text messages, one of three things could happen: (We do not recommend clicking on the links)

1. PHISHING METHOD: You will be taken to a fake UPS website asking you to verify various information before “continuing the delivery process”. They usually ask for personally identifying information such as your name, phone number, address, Social Security number (SSN) or your credit card number. This information can then be used either to steal your identity or hack into your various accounts.

2. PAY RELEASE FEE: In this scenario, the scam URL will open and you will be asked to pay a fee, claiming you owe customs charges, in order to “release your package for delivery”. They will have you input your credit card information or have you pay in unordinary ways such as gift cards, wire transfers, or with cryptocurrency.

3. MALWARE: These kinds of links, once clicked on, will start downloading malware on your device - After the malware is downloaded the scammer can use it to find personal information on your device, like log into your bank account. They can also manually lock your device and demand payment in order to unlock it.

UPS says to look for the following signs of fraudulent messages:

  • Poor grammar - misspellings or excessive use of exclamation points

  • Sense of Urgency - Alarming messages requesting immediate action, such as "Your account will be suspended within 24 hours." or "Contact us immediately to claim your parcel or prize.

  • Unexpected Requests - A request attempting to obtain money, financial information (e.g. bank account or payment card numbers), or personal information in exchange for the delivery of a package or other article

  • Deceptive Link - be suspicious of links containing numbers in place of letters, abbreviations, and slight misspellings in the link.

UPS writes on their website that, “If UPS contacts you regarding a package, the UPS representative will always be able to provide a tracking number, which you can verify on our website. You also should know that UPS may contact you from time to time regarding service offerings or for marketing purposes, but you may always verify our phone number [by googling it] and call back before proceeding…

Please be advised that UPS does not request payments, personal information, financial information, account numbers, IDs, passwords, or copies of invoices in an unsolicited manner through email, text, mail, phone, or fax or specifically in exchange for the transportation of goods or services.”

PORCH PIRATES - 25% had a package stolen

Mail and package theft reports increased by 600% from 2017–2022. These criminals will steal directly from your mailbox or porch looking for anything valuable or to gain access to any personal information that might be within them. Make sure you are monitoring your mailbox as frequently as possible, especially when expecting mail with personal information like a new credit card.

GIFT CARD SCAMS - 21% have given and/or received a gift card with no funds on it

Recently, a woman posted a video online that brought to our attention a new scam with purchasing in store gift cards. In the video, she shows that some of the gift cards have barcode stickers placed on top of the original gift card’s barcode. When this new barcode is scanned at the cash register the money is automatically transferred to the scammer and not filled into the gift card.

In total 75% of Americans experienced at least one of these types of holiday scams last year [*]. Keep reading to learn how you can stay safe.

How to Avoid Falling Victim to Holiday Scams

1. Before clicking on links, make sure there are no missing or extra letters of a retailer’s name. (example: >

2. Definitely avoid offers that require payment by wire transfer or prepaid debit cards

3. Before donating to charities, verify that the charity and its web address are legitimate at Charity Navigator or through a state charity agency that can verify it for you.

4. Avoid sending donations through wire transfer or cash and instead can be sent via check of credit card

5. Do your research on any product before purchasing something to make sure you are aware of the potential scams out there.


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