Holiday Scam Watch

When the holidays roll around, you may find your already hectic schedule overflowing with festive parties, gift-shopping excursions, meal preparation, and trips to visit friends and family. Fraudsters tend to strike hardest this time of year, hoping you’ll be too distracted by the seasonal hustle and bustle to focus on your accounts.

Origin Bank knows how scammers work and has compiled a list of tips to help you spot common tactics. By staying aware of top holiday scams to avoid, you’ll keep your winter merry and bright.

Holiday scams to avoid

Scammers use a variety of schemes to trick you into revealing personal information including bank or credit card account numbers, Personal Identification Numbers (PIN), or your social security number. Some of the most common schemes include:

1. Email Phishing. From Black Friday to Cyber Monday, peak holiday shopping season means a flood of coupons and promotional emails in your inbox. This influx can make it hard to tell what’s legit and what’s a scam. You may see what appears to be a message from a trusted source, asking you to click on a link and provide your personal information, often threatening to suspend your account if you don’t act quickly. Remember that reputable companies will never ask you to reveal your personal information or PIN in an email, so never reply or click links that ask you to share those details.

2. SMiShing. Fraudsters know you have more packages than usual arriving during the holidays. Oftentimes, they will attempt to trick you with false shipping information sent via text, alerting you to a “problem” with a shipment or asking you to click a shady link to track your parcel. Similar to email phishing, fraudsters are seeking to obtain your personal or financial information through official-looking correspondence, but instead of using email they send messages to your cell phone or via social media. As with email phishing, avoid clicking on links or replying to these types of requests, and never provide personal details or payment information without double-checking first.

You can further determine the legitimacy of a message by checking the sender’s email address. Be wary of addresses that seem slightly altered or are misspelled and remember that legitimate organizations use domain-specific email addresses. If you’re still not sure whether the email is legitimate or not, you can verify the sender's identity by contacting them directly. If it’s from a friend or loved one, text or call them to verify. If it’s from a business or other known organization, call or contact them via their official website.

3. Gift Card Scams. Fraudsters know gift cards are popular during the holidays and have devised ways to dupe even the savviest consumers into buying them for nefarious purposes. If you receive an email or text claiming to be from someone you know asking you to buy gift cards for them, take a minute to question the request – would this person really contact you with an urgent need to purchase gift cards for them? If it doesn’t make sense, chances are it's not really from them.

You can use these tips to spot a scam:

● Beware of urgency or pressure from the sender to purchase gift cards quickly – it often signals a scam.

● Examine the phone number, email address, or URL the request is coming from. If it includes a random series of numbers or looks less than official in any way, steer clear.

● Watch out for emails or messages with poor spelling and grammar.

● Always verify the legitimacy of requests with family or friends before acting.

● If in doubt, contact the organization directly to verify the request.

4. Snail Mail Theft. From holiday greeting cards to party invitations, the holidays are a big season for postal mail. With all the focus on online scams, it’s easy to forget fraudsters can use traditional mail to capture your sensitive information. In 2023, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) saw an uptick in mail theft, with criminals finding ways to retrieve mail directly from official USPS mailboxes. To protect your information, it’s best to place outgoing mail inside USPS locations, and be sure to retrieve your incoming mail as quickly as possible, never letting it sit overnight.

5. Charity Scam. The holidays are a time for giving gifts and giving back, often in the form of charitable donations. And as donations spike between Thanksgiving and Christmas, scammers take advantage of others’ generosity by soliciting “donations” on behalf of fictitious charities. Whether they contact you by phone, email, text, or social media, never make a donation to a charity without doing your research first. Search the charity’s name on a vetted site like Charity Watch to make sure it’s legitimate.

6. Corporate Takeover. This time of year, scammers aren’t just focusing on consumers – they also target small businesses, many of which are dealing with a flood of orders and information. If you’re a small business owner, pay extra attention to suspicious activity to avoid corporate account takeover, a type of identity theft in which scammers gain control of business bank accounts by stealing online banking credentials, often using malware to “infect” a company computer. The malware is often distributed via email, social networking links, and websites. For businesses with low malware protection support, this can go unnoticed for weeks or even months, especially during the holiday rush when notifications are rolling in 24/7. To avoid this, consult with an IT professional on how to protect against malware and consider cybersecurity training for your staff so they can recognize and respond to potential threats.

Interested in learning more about protecting your money and personal information from persistent holiday scammers? Visit Origin’s Online Security Center for additional scam-spotting tips and guidance on keeping your personal and business information safe.