Every holiday season tends to bring out a host of ploys from fraudsters at the ready to cash in on the revelry and spirit of generosity that moves us during this time of year. Further emboldened by the distractions of festivities and flurry of retail activities, they’re ramping up their efforts to carry out their usual schemes. But as you would expect, a new wave of popular holiday scams is already circulating, along with some variations on familiar ploys used time and again. Here are a few on the radar of experts this season:
Fraudulent package delivery notices: Our members in law enforcement may have come across this one already this year, because reports have been popping up throughout the country. Residents are finding postcards and similar notices at their front door and mailboxes announcing a failed attempt to deliver a package, supposedly from the U.S. Post Office, FedEx or UPS. To claim the package, the person is instructed to call the phone number provided, at which point the criminals will attempt to get sensitive information from the caller. If you receive a delivery notice that looks suspicious (e.g. branding and colors are off) trust your instincts, and don’t call. It’s likely a con to get you to divulge financial information to the person who answers. If you’re expecting a package, you can go directly to the retailer’s site for tracking information.
Mail thieves: Although it’s certainly not a new form of theft, the Better Business Bureau reminds us to take precautions around this time of year from criminals roaming the neighborhoods in search of holiday packages. Try not to leave packages unattended and remove mail from your box promptly. Can’t arrange to be home when a package will be delivered? You might consider having the package sent to your work address or installing a security camera. For more suggestions, check out “BBB Trends: Protect your holiday packages from being stolen; porch pirates threaten holiday cheer.” And of course, take care when disposing of packaging for expensive gifts such as a new TV, Xbox or laptop, so as not to attract burglars. It’s a good idea to break down boxes and turn them inside out, or place them in black garbage boxes before recycling.
Bogus gift cards: The popularity of gift cards at this time of year is also creating plenty of opportunities for thieves. Individuals may go into a store, copy the numbers off the cards (sometimes scratching off the security codes), then call the 1-800 number or check online to find out if the card’s been activated. Once it is, they then spend the credit online. To avoid buying a compromised gift card, be sure to check the card’s packaging for any evidence of tampering, making certain that its PIN has not been exposed. Also, be wary of discounted gift cards for purchase online, as scammers have been known to accept cash for the cards, then use the cards themselves.
Data theft: With more people milling around in cafes, airports, shops and other venues, criminals are taking full advantage of using public Wi-Fi to spy on online activities. It’s relatively easy for hackers to access personal payment information and login credentials on public Wi-Fi networks. While it’s fine to use these services to browse shopping sites, it’s best to wait until you can access a private network to purchase items or carry out financial transactions. You may also want to consider connecting your laptop, smartphone or tablet to a VPN (virtual private network), which provides an additional layer of security through encryption. Essentially, the VPN layers a private network across a public network so that unauthorized users can’t intercept your internet data. In most cases, a VPN service will cost you in the range of about $2 to $10 per month. For help in selecting one, visit PC World’s “Best VPN Services of 2018: Reviews and buying advice.”
Phishing scams take a few new twists: By now, most of us are quite familiar with email (and text) scams hackers use to attempt to steal your personal information. Posing as a trusted organization or merchant, the attacker sends a bogus message with links or attachments asking for account data or other personal identifiable information. In other variations of this attack, the email will direct the user to a fake website where spyware or malware can be downloaded onto the device.
In 2018, security experts are identifying a few notable trends among perpetrators of these scams. Perhaps not surprisingly, one of these involves bogus package deliveries. In fact, FedEx has released a warning on their website regarding email scams with a subject line that reads “FedEx: Delivery Problems Notification.” These emails contain links, which, when clicked, connects the user to a site which infects their computer. According to U.S. News & World Report, another popular email scam making the rounds is a request to confirm the purchase of an expensive item, along with a link to dispute or cancel the order.
When it comes to phishing scams, even Santa is used as a ruse for criminals attempting to con parents with offers of “Handwritten letter from Santa to your child.” Although there are legitimate companies that do, in fact, sell letters to Santa, you’d be well advised to steer clear of direct solicitations such as these. As Consumer Affairs explains, it’s likely an attempt to collect your personal information, which can be used for direct theft or provided to other criminals (i.e., sold on the dark web). With any suspicious email you receive, your best course of action is to simply resist the urge to click on the links provided and delete the questionable email.
Think you might benefit from a refresher on how to protect yourself and your family from the kinds of fraudulent activities that are more likely to occur over the holidays? Considering that more than half of holiday shoppers plan to make purchases online this season, we suggest perusing LifeLock’s “15 Tips for Safe Online Holiday Shopping” for some excellent advice.