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Online Scams to Watch Out for This Holiday Season

By: Lindsay McKay

Published On: December 15, 2021

Online Scams to Watch Out for This Holiday Season

During the holiday season, online scams increase and cybercriminals amp up the sophistication of their cyber-attacks. And this year, scammers are taking advantage of supply chain issues, and the number of fake sites and fake companies is astounding. In the US, it is estimated that US consumers will have $20 billion stolen by the end of the holiday season. It is this time of year that everyone can use some cybersecurity training. Let’s look at a few of the most popular online scams during the holidays and how to avoid them.    

Fake Online Retailers 

With so many things on backorder or delays in shipping, shoppers are getting desperate to find the gifts they need this holiday season. Criminals know this and fake online sites have increased from 100 to 5000 in the past year alone, getting consumers there through email phishing and fake social media ads. These websites will often ask for payment via a wire service like PayPal, a pre-paid gift card, or e-transfer. They will take your money and you will never receive any product. 

To avoid this, you can go directly to the site via a browser instead of clicking a link from an email, or if you do click a link from an email ensure proper grammar has been used and that the sender email is recognizable and the same as previous emails from this store. If you are coming from a social media ad, make sure the website has https and has a proper check-out setup. If you are buying from a new or small company do a little research first such as putting their company name plus scam into google; reading online reviews from third party websites; checking out their social media accounts and anything created within the past few months is a little sketchy, and if you decide to purchase review your bank account often to watch for suspicious activity.  

Puppy Scam 

The pandemic has already caused an increase in puppy and other pet scams. A pet scam is when someone pays in advance for a purebred pet, insurance, shots, food and shipping, but the pet never arrives. Thanks to COVID-19, these fake pet sellers were able to tell the would-be pet owners that they could not meet their new pet in person due to safety concerns. At the beginning of the pandemic, when so many people were wanting pets, this scam tended to work quite well. With the holiday season, the number of pet scams and victims increases as people that may not normally look online to purchase a pet are currently looking online to purchase a pet. Again, these sellers would ask for payment in the form of an e-transfer, cash app, or gift card; no reputable seller would be asking for payment this way or would ask you to pay for something like insurance or food for that matter. 

To avoid this, ask to meet the pet and seller virtually; if the seller says no, that is a huge red flag. If they send you a picture, be sure to do a reverse image search to see if the same picture appears on multiple sites. An easy way to avoid this is to reach out to local shelters and adopt a pet instead of shopping. Also, refer to volunteer-run, for a list of sham websites.   

Social Media Gift Exchange 

A holiday gift exchange, something that sounds fun and festive, is actually an illegal pyramid scheme according to the Better Business Bureau. A few popular campaigns are the “Secret Sisters” gift exchange and the “Secret Santa Dog” campaign. In these schemes, someone will receive an invitation to sign up for this fun event and all they need to do is provide their name, address, and other personal information and send this to a list they are helpfully already created using your social media list. You are told you will receive 36 gifts in exchange for sending one gift and these 36 other gifts will come from people all around the world. How is this a pyramid scheme you may ask? The BBB explains, “You give away your personal information, and you’re left with buying and shipping gifts or money to unknown individuals, in hopes that the favour is reciprocated by receiving the promised number of gifts in return. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen. Just like any other pyramid scheme, it relies on the recruitment of individuals to keep the scam afloat.” 

To avoid this, just ignore any type of invitation that promises a bounty of cash or gifts by email, mail or social media. To help others, you can report the message or post to make sure the social media platform knows it is a scam and will hopefully remove it. 

Other Scams 

There are many more scams to watch out for. Here is a further list: 

  • Phony e-cards 
  • Fake shipping notifications 
  • Temporary holiday jobs 
  • Sham invoices 
  • Fake pop-up holiday virtual events 
  • Fake charities 
  • Increase in robo-calls and alerts about compromised accounts 

It is Time to Get Educated About Cybersecurity 

Not following cybersecurity best practices cannot only impact you, but also anyone that uses your network including family, friends, and the company you work for. TechnoEdge Learning is here to provide self-paced online courses to ensure the safety of your data and all of those around you. Introductory courses include CompTIA A+ certification, CompTIA Fundamentals+ certification, and CompTIA Security+ certification. Some intermediate options include CompTIA Network+ certification and CompTIA CySA+ certification. Whatever level you are at, there is a course here for you, if you are a business owner, corporate training is also available. 



The information contained in this post is considered true and accurate as of the publication date. However, the accuracy of this information may be impacted by changes in circumstances that occur after the time of publication. Ashton College assumes no liability for any error or omissions in the information contained in this post or any other post in our blog.


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