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December 5, 2023 - Greg Oprendek

2023 Holiday Fraud Attacks to Watch For

The holiday season is here! Your main focus is probably on putting up decorations, snuggling up with a cup of hot cocoa, and enjoying your favorite holiday movies. But while you’re mind is on joyous celebrations with loved ones, fraudsters’ minds are on running their devious new financial scams.

Their methods may change year to year, but fortunately, we know the fraud attacks that occur most around the holidays and how to stay ahead of them. In 2023 especially, digital frauds and more sophisticated schemes bring new threats, making it critical to stay informed. From clever phishing emails to payment ploys, here are the 2023 holiday fraud attacks to know and how to keep yourself and your information secure.

Charity scams

Giving to charity is a staple of the holiday season. After all, it’s known as the season of giving for a reason. Unfortunately, fraudsters are better than ever at finding ways to victimize this thoughtfulness and celebrate their own season of taking.

In a fake charity scam, fraudsters create fake charities or holiday funds to fool victims into thinking they are giving to a real cause. These fake charities can be impressively convincing, with full websites, social media pages, and seemingly official email correspondence to go with them. But just because a charity appears legitimate on its face doesn’t mean it can fully be trusted without investigation.

You may receive cold calls or emails from these fake charities, pitching you to give to the less fortunate. In many cases, fraudsters make sending payments as easy as possible using two of their favorite transaction fraud methods—cryptocurrency and real-time payments.

How to avoid falling victim to charity scams:

  • Thoroughly check every email, especially links, that you receive promoting holiday charities and verify that they are registered and legitimate.
  • Be suspicious if the charity promotes paying through cash or cryptocurrency.
  • Don’t reveal personal information until you’re sure the charity is trustworthy.
  • Contact the charity before donating and make sure you speak to a real representative.

Gift card scams

In a time of year when you may send and receive gifts from unexpected sources, it makes sense fraudsters see this as a prime spot to exploit victims. Gift card scams take many forms. It may be a spoofed email from your supervisor asking that you purchase gift cards for your team. You might get a phone call from what sounds like a family member asking that you buy a gift card on their behalf for family members. You could even receive messages telling you that you’ve received a gift card yourself—all you need to do is click one link to accept it.

In reality, that spoofed email is part of a mass phishing campaign. The phone call is a fraudster using deepfake technology to mimic your family member’s voice. That message about a free gift card? You guessed it—that’s a link ready to fill your device with malware or steal your personal information.

What’s worse, these gift card schemes can set some victims up in complicated, sprawling money mule schemes. Without even realizing it, you could become part of a massive fraudulent operation—one you’d be on the hook for legally whether you know you’re a victim or not.

How to avoid falling victim to gift card scams:

  • Ignore emails from senders you don’t know asking you to purchase gift cards or to sign up to receive a gift card yourself.
  • If you receive a message from what seems like a sender you know asking you to purchase gift cards, verify independently that the person actually sent you this message.
  • Always be suspicious of messages that refuse to use payment or financial transaction methods other than gift cards.

Lookalike stores and e-commerce scams

During the holiday season, online shopping hits a yearly peak. From Black Friday through to the New Year, online retailers and e-commerce brands advertise more, see more traffic, and promote more sales than any other time of year.

Fraudsters see this increased spending and exploit it by making lookalike stores or flat-out fake e-commerce sites intended to trick shoppers who buy without using a careful eye first. They promote too-good-to-be-true deals and incredible sales on in-demand goods. As with most scams on this list, lookalike stores reel you in via phishing emails, texts, or ads. While the websites they create may be exact replicas of real outlets, you need to be sure before you buy.

How to avoid falling victim to lookalike store scams:

  • Avoid interacting with untrustworthy sites and ads offering items at unrealistic discounts or special coupons.
  • Do not put your information into any website unless you have 100% verified you are on the official store’s correct domain name.
  • Do not purchase anything if stores only accept non-traditional payments like crypto, cash, or gift cards.

Fake seasonal job scams

During the holidays, stores may need extra short-term help to fulfill increased product orders, man pop-up retail booths, or perform other tasks. While there are legitimate opportunities to do this, fraudsters choose this time of year to send emails and texts promoting fake job opportunities that scam respondents.

Most commonly, these fake job scams aim to steal your personal information. They will create fake websites asking you to enter your contact information, as well as highly sensitive information like your social security number and bank account information (for “paychecks”).

How to avoid falling victim to fake seasonal job scams:

  • Verify that companies who contact you for any role are legitimate, and never enter any personal information on their website until you have.
  • If the job seems like it will be paying more than you could reasonably expect for a similar role somewhere else, it’s likely too good to be true.
  • Double-check any emails and make sure the sender’s email and links in the message do not belong to a suspicious website.

Card skimming

One of the most enduring images of the holiday season is in-person retail shopping. Whether it’s going with the family to purchase special holiday knick-knacks or shopping for unique gifts at independent sellers, shopping IRL is a staple of the holidays.

But, any place you’re using your credit or debit card to make a transaction is a place where you’re in danger of your information being stolen through a device called a card skimmer. These devices seem innocuous and may not even be noticeable at all. Once you slide your card through one, though, it captures the card number and all relevant information for a scammer to use for false purchases.

How to avoid falling victim to card skimming:

  • Look for strange attachments or unfamiliar devices attached to point-of-sale machines, and if you don’t recognize them then don’t trust them.
  • Ensure you know how to contact the seller you’re buying from after your purchase and always get re receipt for your transaction.
  • Use a credit card when possible, as these transactions are easier to reverse or void in the case that a card skimmer does steal your information.

Check Fraud

Family members and friends alike send money to loved ones during the holidays. Despite the plethora of ways to send money safely, many still prefer the old-fashioned check. Unfortunately, checks are among the most vulnerable payment methods, and check fraud has increased steadily over the past two years as fraudsters have improved their methods to commit check fraud.

How to avoid falling victim to check fraud:

  • Choose to send money through safer methods like real-time or ACH transfers.
  • Follow up on checks you write and confirm the recipient has deposited or cashed them.
  • Deliver checks to intended recipients in person rather than through the mail, as fraudsters steal from mailboxes and postal employees.

Phishing scams

We’ve covered a few holiday fraud attacks already that rely on phishing methods, but this type of attack is so common during the holidays it deserves its own section. Among the many types of fraud that rely on phishing, some of the most common during the holiday season are:

  • Bank refund scams
  • Fake giveaways
  • Fake gift exchanges
  • Missed delivery notifications
  • Spoofed emails from Amazon/Target/other big box retailers

How to avoid falling victim to phishing scams:

  • Carefully check messages about orders you’ve made or expect to receive, especially from big box retailers, as fraudsters can use Generative AI to mimic these convincingly.
  • Never input your information into any website or form that you are not completely sure is a legitimate one created by the retailer you intend to purchase from.
  • Use common sense and discretion—if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Stay Safe with Help from AI

While fraudsters are using new technology to turn their scams up a notch during the holiday season, AI and machine learning keep fraud fighters one step ahead. Using holistic platforms like DataVisor, financial institutions, digital banks, and retailers alike can spot fraud activity—even among seemingly unrelated transactions—to unveil fraud networks and stamp out fraudsters trying to ruin the holiday spirit.

To see how DataVisor’s award-winning platform works to deliver best-in-class fraud protection and prevention to the biggest banks and credit unions down to local retailers, book a personalized demo with our team.

about Greg Oprendek
Greg is a passionate digital marketer, avid basketball fan, aspiring fraud expert, and Content Marketing Manager at DataVisor.
about Greg Oprendek
Greg is a passionate digital marketer, avid basketball fan, aspiring fraud expert, and Content Marketing Manager at DataVisor.