December 6, 2023

Holiday scams: Protect yourself during the festive season

Holiday scams: Protect yourself during the festive season

While most people see the holidays as a time of giving, scammers see countless opportunities for stealing. With an uptick in travel, online shopping, and the use of gift cards, many common phone scams become gold mines during the holiday season. Holiday scams can invade your privacy, take your money, and even steal your identity, so it’s critical to know how to defend yourself.

A 2022 TransUnion analysis found that digital fraud attempts in the United States increased by 127% during the period between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday compared to the rest of the year up to that point. According to another study, 36% (more than 1 in 3) of respondents had fallen victim to an online shopping scam at some point during the holidays. For fraudsters, this time of year is like, well, Christmas.

Don’t let the scammers be your Grinch. Keep reading and learn how to protect yourself from dangerous holiday scams during the festive season.

The most common types of holiday scams

Most phone scams occur year-round, but certain ploys lend themselves to the holidays in particular. Watch out for holiday scams across all mediums, from robocalls and smishing texts to fraudulent emails and shady online pop-ups. Get to know some of the most common holiday scams below.

Delivery scams

USPS, FedEx, and UPS delivery scams already contribute to the top robotext category of 2023, according to our mid-year report, and they become even more prevalent during the holiday season. Often done via smishing texts, these scams may include a fake tracking number and prompt you to follow a link to track your package. Alternatively, they may claim you missed a delivery and have you click the link to reschedule the dropoff.

If you follow the link, it will send you to a fake website where you’re instructed to input private information like your name, address, Social Security number, and banking details. The link may also trigger a malware download that gives the scammer access to your device. Never click the link in an unexpected text message.

If you’re waiting on a package, only use the shipping company’s official tracking services to check on the delivery. Don’t trust unexpected text messages claiming you have a delivery when you haven’t ordered anything.

Gift card scams

While the mention of gift cards in an unsolicited text is a red flag throughout the year, it may seem less glaring during a season that emphasizes gift-giving. Gift cards are a preferred payment method for scammers because they’re tough to trace and easy to transfer.

Gift card scams work in two directions:

  • The scammer sells the victim a phony gift card: Fraudsters offer gift cards at lower prices than their value. Although they claim you’re getting a deal, you’re really getting a used or otherwise invalid gift card.
  • The scammer requests payment in gift cards for unrelated products or services: The scammer poses as your credit card company, the IRS, or another entity to which you may owe money. They claim you need to pay an outstanding balance using gift cards, which the real bank, agency, or company wouldn’t accept.

Only purchase gift cards through official retailers — never through an unexpected call or text message. If someone asks you to pay for a service or donate to a charity using gift cards, it’s likely a scam attempt.

Fake charities

Rather than participate in the spirit of giving that comes with the holidays, scammers leech off of it. Some take advantage of people’s generosity by impersonating charitable foundations and non-profit organizations. Schemes like veteran charity scams solicit valuable products, money, and financial information.

Fake charity scams start with a call or text message encouraging you to donate to a charity that may sound real. They may request payment in gift cards or ask for your banking details to take your donation. However, any money or items you “donate” will be sent directly to the scammers. While legitimate charities are happy to answer your questions and allow you to call them back after you’ve done your research, scammers may become agitated and unprofessional if you don’t act quickly.

Always research charities before donating to them, and ensure your money is really going to a good cause. Look up the charity online or contact your state attorney general’s office to find out if the organization is legitimate.

Grandparent scams

Named after their primary targets, grandparent scams present seniors with a fake crisis and convince them their grandchild (or another loved one) is in trouble. They often impersonate the family member in question, and with caller ID spoofing and AI voice cloning, they might fool even the most tech-savvy grandparents.

The scammer fabricates a crisis that causes immediate stress and may require money, like an arrest, a medical bill for an emergency, or, in extreme cases, a hostage situation. They call or text the target, posing as the person “in trouble,” and ask for payment via wire transfer or gift cards. Given the seemingly dire situation and the fraudster’s convincing impersonation, it can be difficult for the victim to say no.

If you receive a call or text that appears to be from a family member requesting money, verify their identity by calling them back on their known phone number. While scammers can falsify their caller ID to mimic a relative’s number (a tactic known as “number spoofing”), directly dialing the actual phone number of your family member ensures you connect with them and not the scammer.

Holiday travel scams

Family vacations can be expensive and difficult to organize, and the holiday season may add more stress to the process. Scammers see this as an opportunity to step in with an unbelievable deal they can walk you right through.

Holiday travel scams begin with a suspicious call or text about a holiday vacation package. The scammer may claim it’s an exclusive offer that’s only available for a limited time or until the openings are filled. Then, they take your financial information to process your payment, but you don’t actually get the deal. Instead, you may get fraudulent charges on your credit card.

Cutting corners can be dangerous when planning a vacation, and deals that sound too good to be true are usually just that. Check reviews online before booking anything, and never entertain an unexpected telemarketer offering a vacation package.

Fake giveaways, prizes, sweepstakes, and surveys

Winning a big prize during the holidays would be nice, and believing you’ve won something can sometimes overpower the reality that you didn’t enter the contest. Unfortunately, this sentiment is the driving force behind giveaway scams that do more than damper holiday spirits.

Whether by call, text, or email, a giveaway scammer will claim you’ve won or are eligible to win a prize. The text or email may include a link where you can supposedly redeem your reward, in some cases prompting you to fill out a survey. The caller may simply ask for your information over the phone. In reality, there is no prize, the link is malicious, and any information you reveal may be used to access your personal and financial accounts.

If you didn’t enter a contest, take a survey, or register to win a prize, then the call or text letting you know you’ve won is a scam attempt. Research giveaways and sweepstakes online, and always read the official rules before entering.

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Why scammers target the holiday season

Parcel delivery scams and gift card fraud happen all year, but it’s around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the holiday season that schemes like these tend to be most active. Not only are people more likely to be online shopping, waiting on deliveries, or engaging in other activities that scammers can use to exploit them — they’re also more likely to be emotional, stressed, or simply preoccupied.

With more chances to scam people and more of their targets distracted, fraudsters aim to make the most of their opportunities during the holiday season.

How to identify and avoid holiday scams

It’s often easy to notice the warning signs of a scam after you’ve already fallen victim to it. Still, hindsight won’t refund your money or recover your identity. Learning to identify holiday scams on sight helps you avoid falling into their traps.

Recognizing the signs of a scam

Many phone scams include the same red flags, but they may go unnoticed during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Knowing what to look for in a scam helps you spot one before it can harm you.

  • Spelling and grammar issues: Phone scams often come from overseas, written by scammers who aren’t native English speakers. Texts and emails from legitimate companies typically don’t feature obvious errors in spelling and grammar.
  • Requests for personal information: Scammers seek personal information they can use to hack into accounts, spend money, and steal identities.
  • Unexpected messages: Unless you’ve registered for their mobile notifications, most companies won’t text you unless you’ve contacted them.
  • Vague greetings: Scammers often target the masses, so they may use non-specific wording like “customer” and “user” instead of personalizing individual messages.
  • Sense of urgency: By presenting limited-time offers or fake emergencies, scammers pressure you to act before you realize you’re being scammed.

Tips for avoiding scams

With a little caution, research, and forward-thinking, you can lower your risk for dangerous holiday scams. With the help of a scam blocker, you can virtually eliminate them. Follow the tips below to avoid phone scams entirely.

  • Be careful with your personal information. Don’t add your phone number, email address, or other contact information to social media profiles. Avoid giving away private details over the phone, and never give an unexpected or unknown caller your financial information.
  • Don’t trust caller ID. Scammers use caller ID spoofing to disguise themselves as legitimate businesses you know and trust. Don’t believe someone is who they say they are based on your caller ID alone.
  • Research before donating. Don’t give to the wrong people during the season of giving. Look up any charities you’re considering donating to and make sure they’re legitimate. Many charities must register with the state attorney general’s office, so contact yours for help.
  • Download a reliable scam-blocking app. Phone scams are much less threatening when they never make it to your device. Use a trustworthy scam blocker like Robokiller to eliminate 99% of scam texts and spam calls.

Using Robokiller for protection

There are many ways to reduce your risk and shut down scams, but it’s better not to get suspicious texts and calls at all. Robokiller is a comprehensive scam-blocking app that prevents annoying spam and dangerous scams from reaching your phone. By blocking out fraudsters, you secure your peace of mind and protect your data, finances, and family.

What to do if you’ve fallen victim to a holiday scam

The clock starts ticking as soon as a scammer gets your information. If you’ve fallen victim to a holiday scam, follow the steps below immediately.

  • Stop contacting the scammer. Report scam attempts and take screenshots of suspicious texts before blocking the number.
  • Change your account information. If you’ve revealed login information for a certain account, change your credentials for that account and any others that use the same username or password.
  • Notify your financial institutions. Contact your bank and credit card company to freeze your accounts, monitor activity, and/or cancel cards that may have been compromised.
  • Have your device(s) checked for viruses. Phishing and smishing links may trigger malware downloads that infect your device and allow scammers to access your data. Have a professional check for malware and other viruses.
  • Report potential scam calls and messages to the authorities. File a police report, forward spam texts to 7726 (SPAM), and report scam attempts to the following authorities: Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
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Enjoy a scam-free holiday season

It’s crucial to stay protected from phone scams all year long, but the matter becomes even more pressing during the holiday season. Scammers know you’re busy, stressed, and less likely to notice the red flags, so they step in and steal your personal and financial information. Fortunately, Robokiller prevents hazardous scam calls and texts from interrupting your festivities.

Robokiller offers a wide range of vital protective features, including:

  • 99% effective spam-call and scam-text blocking
  • Audio fingerprinting that tracks scammers not just by number but by voice
  • Robust, award-winning algorithm fueled by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning

The holidays are no time for a financial crisis. Start your free 7-day Robokiller trial and protect yourself and your family from phone scams.


What are common holiday scams?

Certain scams become more common during the holiday season due to the nature of the holidays. Stay on high alert for suspicious calls or texts regarding travel, deliveries, or donations to charity. Exercise caution when looking for deals on in-demand items during the holidays.

How can I recognize a holiday scam?

Holiday scams tend to exhibit many of the same red flags as other types of phone scams. Fraudsters call or text unexpectedly, create a sense of urgency, and solicit personal information. Scam texts often contain malicious links, and many include poor grammar and spelling errors.

Why do scammers target the holiday season?

Scammers are more active during the holiday season because people are more likely to shop for deals online, track packages, and put themselves in positions that scammers can take advantage of. They may also be dealing with holiday stress and distractions, making them more vulnerable to scams.

What should I do if I fall victim to a holiday scam?

If you believe you’ve fallen victim to a holiday scam, it’s important to act quickly. Contact your bank, credit card company, and any other financial institution you use. File a police report with local law enforcement and notify the FTC, FCC, and other appropriate authorities about the scam.

How do I know if a charity is legitimate?

Always do your research before donating to a charity, especially if you’ve never heard of it before. Be cautious with unexpected calls asking for donations. Charities are often required to register with the state’s attorney general’s office, so check there before sending money.

How does Robokiller protect against holiday scams?

The best way to deal with holiday scams is to stop getting them altogether. Robokiller is 99% effective in preventing scam calls and texts from reaching your phone, so scammers never have a chance to trick you.

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You’re one step away from a spam-free phone (and a little poetic justice, thanks to Answer Bots).
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