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Unwrapping Deception: Navigating These 5 Popular Holiday Scams

Don’t get carried away by the spirit of giving this holiday season. If you aren’t careful, you can accidentally overshare important financial information. 

In the wrong hands, your personal data unlocks your precious financial profile. This can have serious consequences: 

  • Scam artists can take payment for an item or service that doesn’t exist.
  • Scammers can access your existing bank account and credit cards with the right info. 
  • They also have what it takes to open cash advances or lines of credit in your name. 

You can avoid these financial issues by being smart this season. Learn how to identify the following five holiday scams.

1. Festive Phishing

Be cautious of unsolicited emails and messages offering too-good-to-be-true deals. Cybercriminals often contact unsuspecting people with the aim of tricking them into:  

  • Providing personal information in the body of the email or messenger app.
  • Clicking links to make purchases on fraudulent platforms.
  • Signing into your bank or online loan account.
  • Applying for Buy Now, Pay Later financing or personal loans.

Falling for any one of these scams can put a damper on the holidays, so be careful in your inbox. 

You might receive genuine emails and texts from legitimate lenders or retailers. However, they will do so with a valid, branded email address. They will also encourage you to check your profile by logging into their dedicated app or website. 

How can you tell the difference between a scam and the real deal? Here are the two primary defenses against phishing. 

1. Always double-check the email domain. 

Even the best phishing scam can’t steal a registered domain name or corporate email address. Scams will always have something wrong with their email address — whether it’s a number, a name, or an email provider. 

A legitimate financial platform like MoneyKey, for example, would never use a Gmail address to contact you — even moneykey@gmail.com is wrong. Like other legitimate online loan companies, they have their own branded email. 

2. Hover over URLs shared in the body of the message. 

Check where a link goes before you click it, and only commit to links that send you to legitimate websites. Cybercriminals can create fake websites that look like legitimate retailers or financial institutions, but they can’t use a registered domain. 

They might also not have a closed padlock preceding the HTTPS of their URL. Most browsers flag websites missing these two features. If you get a pop-up warning you of the possible security threat, don’t ignore it. Avoid the site and move on.

2. Loan Fraud

Let’s face it — the holidays can get away from you sometimes. A mistake in the kitchen or slip on the ice can send you to the ER, facing medical expenses you can’t pay out of pocket. 

If you need extra help to cover unexpected expenses this holiday, beware of personal loan offers that promise guaranteed approval. Debt.org says guaranteed approval is one of the biggest signs you are dealing with a loan scam.

Loan scammers exploit the urgency of financial needs, luring victims into providing personal information or paying upfront fees. By contrast, legitimate online loan companies assess your creditworthiness and won’t ask for advance fees on a personal loan.

Legitimate online loan companies will also do their the best to uphold transparency during the borrowing experience. They use plain language when discussing terms, provide accessibility widgets, and publish financial education resources to help you make informed decisions.

3. Charity Scams 

Generosity powers the holidays, making it a prime time for charity scams. Some scammers invent fake charities to solicit donations for nonexistent causes. Or they pose as a trusted organization and rely on the phishing techniques shared above to trick you into donating.

Don’t let this threat stop you from giving as usual. The holidays are an important time of year for non-profits. According to the CBC, many charities receive up to half of their annual donations in December. 

Charity scams represent a small number of companies compared to the many great organizations making a difference in the world. Just be careful when you donate to new charities. Before making a donation, always do the following:

  • Research online.
  • Check for a legitimate website.
  • Ensure it’s registered.

Legitimate charities are transparent about their mission and use secure donation methods.

4. Gift Card Grifts

Receiving a gift card for the holidays is exciting, but scammers have found a way to exploit this joy. Be wary of emails or calls claiming you’ve won a gift card but need to provide personal information to claim your prize. 

Legitimate giveaways won’t ask for sensitive details, and if it sounds too easy, it probably is. Verify the legitimacy of any promotions before sharing personal information.

You should also be wary of any lender or bank that requests you pay them with gift cards. No matter what they say, this is always a scam. That’s according to the Federal Trade Commission, which shares how you can report these scams if you find them.  

5. Travel Tricks

Several years ago, you knew that if you answered the phone to hear a big foghorn followed by an offer of a free cruise, it was a scam. Travel scams are a lot more sophisticated these days, relying on well-made websites to trick unsuspecting travellers. 

If you plan on going abroad for the holidays, book accommodations and flights carefully. Scammers set up fake travel websites, advertising unbelievable deals to lure people like you. 

To avoid this travel disaster, always verify the legitimacy of the website, read reviews, and use secure payment methods. Remember, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

How to Protect Yourself from a Seasonal Scam

In the spirit of a scam-free season, here are some general tips to protect yourself:

  • Keep up with the latest scams circulating during the holiday season. Awareness is your best defense.
  • Use secure payment methods and ensure websites are encrypted (look for “https” in the URL).
  • If you receive unexpected emails or messages, verify the sender’s legitimacy before clicking on any links or providing information.

At the end of the day, trust your gut. If something feels off, avoid it!