Personal Finance

Watch out: 4 scams targeting holiday shoppers

Key Points
  • Online fraud attempts rose 22 percent last year, between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve.
  • Scammers are targeting shoppers' holiday budgets with scams such as lookalike retailer sites and fake shipping notifications.
  • But it's not just shopping: The Better Business Bureau warns consumers should be aware of bogus charities, too.
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Shoppers, beware: Scammers want in on your holiday spending budget.

Consumers are expected to spend about 4.3 percent to 4.8 percent more this holiday season than last year, up to $720.89 billion total, according to the National Retail Federation.

That's an attractive target for thieves.

"People need to be more aware this time of year," said Katherine Hutt, a national spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau. "They're rushing and trying to get a lot done, and scammers will take advantage of that opportunity."

Online fraud attempts rose 22 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve last year, according to payment systems company ACI Worldwide. Between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday alone, malware infections jumped 123 percent, per reports from Enigma Software Group's anti-malware SpyHunter software.

Here are some of the seasonal scams the BBB is warning consumers to watch out for, and how to fraud-proof your holiday shopping plans.

Shopping red flags

Don't get so caught up in the Black Friday frenzy that you miss warning signs that a deal is too good to be true. So-called "online purchase scams" — which include fake web sites, among other woes — were the BBB's top-reported scam in 2017.

Don't click on emailed links without scrutinizing the source of that sale mail. You could end up at a look-alike site out to collect your credit card details and other info, Hutt said. At checkout, make sure the browser shows a lock symbol and a web address starting with an "https" (versus "http"), meaning it's secure.

How to outsmart the holiday shopping season
How to outsmart the holiday shopping season

Fake shipping notifications

This scam shows up as an email purportedly from a big retailer (one that you may or may not have ordered from) or from a shipper such as UPS or FedEx. Usually, it's a vague warning of a shipping delay or some other problem to entice you to click on a link and get more information, Hutt said.

But doing so could trigger a malware download. Instead, go to the retailer or shipper's site directly, and look up your order status using details such as an order confirmation or tracking number.

Santa letter phishing

Want your kid to receive a letter from Santa? Be careful about the company you pick and what kind of personal details you give out, Hutt said. The big risk here isn't that your kid won't hear from Santa, but that you're providing key details to a phisher who will use it to perpetuate other fraud or identity theft.

Check for reviews and a good BBB rating before you order a Santa letter, she said. And think twice before providing details such as your child's full birth date.

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Bogus charities

"Scammers are opportunists who will go where people are spending money," Hutt said. That's not just at the mall: Nonprofit rating site CharityNavigator has said roughly 40 percent of all charitable donations are made in the last few weeks of the year. Scams pop up in the form of donation solicitations via email, social media and text.

Before you give, check into the charity to make sure it's legit, she said. (CharityNavigator, as well as the BBB's, are good resources.) Give directly via a channel you know is correct — say, the nonprofit's web site — to thwart attempts where the charity is real but the donation request is a phishing attempt.