Woman on smartphone while holiday shopping

Watch Out for Digital Scams This Holiday Season

November 24, 2020 by Hunter Swanson

According to Adobe Analytics, shoppers are expected to spend a staggering $189 billion between Thanksgiving and the New Year. This is also a popular time for cybercriminals. From hacking a merchant’s website to luring away customers to malicious sites or apps, we need to be vigilant this holiday season when shopping online.

Last year alone, the cyber security company RiskIQ identified nearly 1,000 malicious holiday-related apps, over 6,000 apps designed to fool people into giving up their credit card numbers, and 65 fake websites posing as popular retailers.

One of your best defenses against these con artists is to recognize the red flags. Here are two of the most popular digital scams to watch out for this holiday season.


Phishing with fake apps and websites

In a phishing scheme, you may receive an email or text directing you to enter payment information or other personal details on a fraudulent website, which is often designed to look like a legitimate site.

If you receive a message like this, contact the company's help desk to make sure the email is legit before you do anything else. According to the Federal Trade Commission, red flags include:

  • The sender's email address contains spelling errors or extra characters
  • Misspellings and/or bad grammar either in the subject line or anywhere in the message
  • Addresses you with generic terms ("Mr." or "Ms." or "Dear Customer") instead of by name
  • The message warns that you need to take immediate action and asks you to click a link and enter personal details, especially payment information
  • The messages promise a refund, coupons, or other freebies

Digital credit card skimming

Credit card skimmers steal your personal information when you swipe a credit or debit card, and it’s now gone digital. Hackers insert malicious code directly on a website to do the same thing with online payment information.

This one is harder to try and catch since most of us won’t be able to identify when a website’s been compromised. The only potential red flag might be that the website itself doesn't quite look “right.”

Here are a few suggestions you can use to protect yourself from digital credit card skimming:

  • Don't save your credit card information on retail sites
  • Use a third-party payment method like Apple Pay, Google Wallet, or PayPal if possible
  • Enable purchase alerts on all your credit cards
  • Disable international purchases on all credit cards
  • Only make purchases from your home or cellular network, never on public Wi-Fi where your payment could be intercepted

We are all being a little extra cautious this holiday season, not just with our physical health, but our financial health as well. So be on the lookout for any digital red flags and be safe while online shopping. 

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