7 Tips to Avoid Holiday Scams

Woman on computer with her dog in her hand.


As you’re getting a head start on holiday shopping and sales, guess what: scammers and thieves are getting ready for their own kind of season, too.

With holiday shopping expected to jump, fraudsters will have more opportunities to dish out sneaky holiday scams.

Here are seven tips to help you protect yourself from online shopping scams and keep your personal finances personal this season.

1. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is

Nowadays, Black Friday sales can stretch beyond a week, and retailers are eager to offer discounts. But be cautious of web or social media advertisements offering name-brand products at deep discounts. Such discounts and products might be tied to fraudulent retailers.

According to the Better Business Bureau, consumers who purchase items from fraudulent sites often never receive the items they pay for or will receive a cheap counterfeit version.

Meanwhile, the scammers can gain access to your personal and credit information, password history, and more.

So, if you’re seeing the promise of dramatic discounts on the brands you know and love, then proceed with caution. An 80% discount could be a holiday rip-off instead of a holiday miracle.

2. Be cautious of auction and marketplace sites

Do your due diligence and check reviews and ratings of any auction or marketplace sites. Just like too-good-to-be-true deals, these sites can be rife with scams and counterfeit items.

You’ll also want to drill down even further to research specific sellers. It’s a general rule of thumb to avoid sellers with poor ratings or brand new sellers with few or no ratings at all.

3. Avoid clicking direct links in emails and texts

According to the FTC, scammers often send emails and text messages that look like they are from a legitimate bank, credit card company, social networking site, payment website or app, or online store.

If you get an unsolicited email from a brand or organization, it’s safer to bypass the email containing the link. Scam links may direct you to fake websites or download harmful malware on your computer.

Instead, open a new browser window and go directly to that website (by typing in that site’s URL address or via your own bookmark) to log in, rather than use the link provided in the email.

4. Make sure you’re shopping on secure sites

There’s a valid, valuable movement to buy from small and independent businesses. But it’s also important to ensure you’re staying safe online.

First, check whether the website looks legitimate. Be on the lookout for word misspellings, bad grammar, no clear method of contacting the company, and no information about the company's location.

Also, make sure the site uses encryption technology for more secure transactions. Look for the small “lock” icon to the left of a website address or URL, and make sure the URL begins with “https,” rather than just “http.”

Even if websites are secure, never use a public Wi-Fi connection, such as at a library or café, to transact banking or make online purchases.

You’re better off using your private mobile provider’s data network or wait until you get home to shop on your own secure wireless network.

5. The sad reality of fake charities

Charitable giving can be a wonderful way to spread cheer during the holiday season, but you still have to be diligent.

Unfortunately, social media is rampant with funding and charity scams. For example, fraudsters have been known to set up fake GoFundMe accounts and make up stories designed to tug on your heartstrings to take advantage of charitable people.

It’s not that the donors are overly naive or gullible, but it’s important not to make the mistake of equating a trusted platform with the legitimacy of the site’s users.

Such patron and donor platforms don’t vet each cause, so generous donors only find out too late that they’ve been suckered by abusers of the site’s good-natured intent.

If you’re looking to help those in need, first verify the person, cause, or organization is legitimate. And, if you can’t make monetary donations, there are plenty of organizations where you can donate your time.

6. Look out for typos, bad grammar, and unusual English

Professional sites use professional writers — simple as that.

As mentioned above, if you find unusual punctuation use, misspellings, or bizarre wording on a website or in an email, then it’s likely a scam. Try to find the same product offered elsewhere.

7. Use a secure payment method

Avoid sellers who have unusual payment requirements, such as paying via wire transfers, cashier’s checks, gift cards, and prepaid cards. These types of payments are almost impossible to recover.

Even popular payment apps, like Zelle and Venmo, don’t offer fraud protection. Keep in mind that such apps are linked directly to your bank account. Once the payment is sent, your money leaves your account for good. So, try to limit your financial interactions on these platforms to smaller amounts, and only with people you’ve come into contact with or have received a good or service from.

To avoid payment scams, check if your bank offers fraud protection. When paying independent retailers or individuals for goods or services, consider using PayPal. Doing so offers fraud protection, and enables fast and easy online financial transactions without requiring credit card information.

What to do if you’re victimized by holiday scams

The first thing you should do is contact your bank — and do so as quickly as possible. You’ll want to alert them to the issue and see if they can help you recover your funds.

Customer service or fraud agents should also be able to cancel your card or set up alerts for suspicious activity, which can help protect you from additional fraudulent charges.

You can also contact local law enforcement and/or file a complaint with the FBI consumer fraud department at www.ic3.gov.

Check `n Go is dedicated to helping our customers avoid fraud

Protecting your personal finances during the holiday scam season requires vigilance on your part, and these tips can help.

Check `n Go is here to help, too. We are dedicated to protecting our customers’ online finances and security — during the holiday season, and every other season. As online traffic and shopping has surged, we have now added multi-factor authentication for every online account.

Multi-factor authentication allows Check `n Go users to access their accounts only when they present more than two pieces of evidence or information (e.g., texting a unique login code to users’ mobile phones).

To further reduce consumer fraud and secure our customers’ identities, we’ve also added a verification platform called Intellicheck.

When prompted, Intellicheck will request a photo of an ID card and a “selfie,” comparing the photos submitted by the user. The system will then confirm that our customer’s identity is intact, giving us the greenlight and confidence to continue with a loan.

This holiday season, and in the future, you can trust Check `n Go to help protect your online identity and financial security with our new security features and by following the tips listed above.