In their ongoing pursuit of your money and identity, criminals are constantly coming up with new cons. When shopping online during the holiday season – or any other time of the year — there are plenty of opportunities for bad actors to take advantage of busy and distracted online shoppers.

Here are a couple of recent examples of scams that are widely exploited and how you can protect yourself:

Fake charities that steal your money

Charity fraud scams can come to you in many forms: emails, social media posts, crowdfunding platforms, cold calls, etc. Always use caution and do your research when you’re looking to donate to charitable causes. A good source to conduct your research is the Federal Trade Commission (

Lookalike online stores

While most retailers provide safe and convenient systems for making purchases online, it is important to look out for potential scams. Scammers often take advantage of people’s desire to get bargains and send out phishing e-mails that contain links to perceived trusted sites from reputable retailers.

If you receive such e-mails, a safe practice is not to click on the link but rather go directly to the retailer’s website and find the bargain there. This way you avoid lookalike web pages setup by the bad actor.

Gift card scams

Scammers love gift cards because they’re almost impossible to trace. For example, cybercriminals may create fake stores or Craigslist listings for discounted gift cards. But if you send them money, you’ll receive an empty gift card in return.

  • If you buy gift cards in a store, make sure that they haven’t been tampered with. Check the back and look to see if the PIN has been exposed. Get a receipt so that you can verify the purchase if your card is lost or stolen.
  • Only purchase gift cards from reputable retailers. If you’re buying online, check the store’s link to see if it’s secure.
  • Whenever possible, buy gift cards from the actual retailer or company.
  • Never pay an “activation fee” for a gift card. Some unscrupulous retailers charge massive fees just to activate your card.

Missed delivery notification scam texts

We have been seeing an influx of scams conducted via SMS text messages by notifying you that a delivery is pending on an action from you. And unfortunately, this is where the scam starts.

If you click on such a link, one of three things can happen:

  • You’ll be taken to a phishing website designed to steal your sensitive information. In most cases, scammers will create a fake UPS or FedEx website that asks you to “verify” your information before proceeding. They’ll ask for your name, phone number, address, and sometimes even your Social Security number (SSN) along with credit card numbers. But any information you provide will go straight to the scammer.
  • You’ll be asked to pay a fee to release your shipment. Scammers may also claim that your package requires a customs fee or other payment before it can be delivered. They’ll ask for your credit card information or demand that you pay via gift cards, wire transfers, or cryptocurrency.
  • You’ll accidentally infect your mobile device with malware. In other cases, hackers will use these links to download malicious software onto your device. Once installed, malware can scan your device for sensitive information (like your bank account or credit card numbers), spy on you, or encrypt your device and demand payment to unlock it (this is called ransomware).

Never respond to those messages nor should you click on the associated link. If there is no tracking number or carrier information provided, it is most likely a fake notification and if there is a tracking number provided, the safest way to verify the information is going directly to the carrier website and enter the tracking number.

Fake online giveaways and surveys

Scammers also use social media to list fake holiday giveaways or surveys that offer gifts and “free cash” in exchange for your personal information. Some fraudsters may even use bot accounts to “like” giveaways, which makes the scam look like the real deal.

Warning signs of a fake online giveaway or survey:

  • You’re asked to provide sensitive information in return for a free gift. Be especially cautious if you’re asked for financial information (such as your credit card number) or details about your workplace.
  • You’re told you’ve won a prize but need to pay a small fee to receive it.

How to stay safe

Ignore surveys on social media and don’t trust anyone who offers you free money or gifts — especially if you never entered the giveaway. If you’re asked to pay or provide sensitive information in exchange for a prize, it’s a scam.

Missed Package Scams

Who doesn’t hate missing a package delivery?

Cybercriminals know this. So, they’ve created a ruse that involves leaving a note on your door claiming to have a package for you that couldn’t be delivered. The note contains a phone number to call to reschedule the delivery. If you call the number, you’ll be greeted with questions related to your personal identity that can later be used to commit fraud.

If you receive a missed delivery note, look at it closely for any mistakes or other signs that it could be fraudulent. (It’s also a good idea to check your recent orders to see if a delivery was scheduled for that date.) Even if the notice looks legitimate, don’t call the number listed on the note. Instead, visit the company’s website to find the official customer service number.