The holiday season can be especially profitable for cybercriminals. Because of the prevalence of online shopping, the number of cyberscams typically increase during November and December. To help you avoid becoming a victim of cybercrime any time of year, here are some of the top scams to watch out for—and tips for avoiding falling for them.
Shady shipping notices
During the holiday season, it’s very likely that you will ship at least a couple of packages directly to your loved ones or have online purchases sent to your home. This makes the shipping notice scam a popular one for cyberscrooges. Here’s how it works: The scammer crafts an email, purportedly coming from UPS or FedEx, notifying you of a problem delivering your package. To resolve the issue, you need only click on a link in the email message or open an attached invoice. Of course, doing so will install malware or ransomware on your computer or device.
Don’t fall for it. Be particularly wary of emails claiming to come from any courier service. If you do receive a message like the one described above—whether you believe it to be legitimate or not—go to the website of the company you may have ordered from. You should be able to track your package from the retailer’s site. Use the tracking number for the courier service that the retailer provides. You can also go directly to UPS.com or FedEx.com and obtain the delivery status there. Whatever you do, don’t click on any links or download any attachments in the original message.
This phishing scam is designed to steal your personal and financial information. Typically, an email claiming to be from an e-commerce company like Amazon, eBay, or Overstock will say that something has gone wrong with your recent order. You will be prompted to click on a link in the message to obtain your refund. Unfortunately, if you do, you will be taken to a dummy website set up to look like a legitimate sender. There, you will be asked to fill out a form with your financial information to let the sender know where it can issue your refund.
Don’t fall for it. Check the status of any order you may have placed, go to the company’s website directly (e.g., Amazon.com, eBay.com). If the company doesn’t offer the ability to check an order’s status, verify the transaction by calling the firm at a phone number that you know is legitimate.
The gift card scam is seen year-round but more often during the holidays. These bogus offers are most commonly delivered by cybercriminals through social media, usually through a friend’s hacked account or a fake company page set up to look as if it’s legitimate. Appearing to originate from an entity like Best Buy, Ikea, or Whole Foods, the offer claims that the company is giving away hundreds or thousands of dollars in gift cards. But if you follow the instructions provided to obtain your gift card, you will likely be led to a phishing form that asks for your personal information.
Don’t fall for it. Remember, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is! If the post appears to come from a friend, call or text him or her to ask if it’s legitimate. In addition, be wary if the “official company page” looks a little off. Further, a huge promotion such as the one described in the offer you received would also be listed on the retailer’s website, so check there directly or call the company’s customer service number.
When certain items are hard to find, sketchy websites often appear out of nowhere claiming to have these must-have gifts in stock. These sites trick you into paying for the items with no intention of delivering them. More often than not, these entities are based overseas.
Don’t fall for it. Search the Better Business Bureau website for customer reviews and the accreditations of merchants that are unfamiliar to you. In addition, because not all businesses are listed with the BBB, you might want to hunt elsewhere on the web for reviews posted by other consumers. If you’re uncertain about the legitimacy of a website, check its safety rating on Scamadviser.com or URLVoid.com If you can’t find much information on the vendor, stay away!
‘Tis the season
With all the merriment and shopping during the holidays, the risk of inadvertently exposing your credit card or bank account details is very real. It’s important to take a step back and pay attention to the emails you’re receiving and the websites you’re using. By following the suggestions discussed here, you can help protect yourself against cyberscams so you can fully enjoy the holiday season.
Michael Flaherty is a financial advisor located at Canby Financial Advisors, 161 Worcester Road, Framingham, MA 01701. He offers securities and advisory services as an Investment Adviser Representative of Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser. Financial planning services offered through Canby are separate and unrelated to Commonwealth. He can be reached at 508.598.1082 or [email protected]
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