The holiday season brings joy, celebrations, and… a surge in online scams. While you’re shopping for gifts or booking flights, hackers are plotting to trick you into revealing your personal details and financial information.
Holiday phishing scams are an ongoing issue that ramps up when folks are feeling the most festive. About three-quarters of American consumers have encountered some form of holiday-related scam.
In this article, we uncover what holiday scams are, how they take shape, and the different types you might encounter.
What Is a Phishing Scam?
Phishing is a type of online trickery where scammers pretend to be someone you trust. Their goal? To get your personal and financial information. These cyber tricksters use emails, text messaging, phone calls, or even websites to deceive you.
In most cases, they pretend to be from a well-known company, a government agency, or even a friend. They usually craft their messages in a way that makes you want to click a link or share your details.
With an estimated 3.4 billion spam emails sent every day, phishing is the most common type of cybercrime.
How Does Phishing Work?
You get an email from your bank warning you about possible suspicious activity. The email tells you to click on a link to verify your account details.
The message seems urgent, often using phrases like “Immediate action needed” or “Contact us now about your account.” You might even recognize the name of the bank, the colors, and the logo.
But here’s the twist, when you click on the link, it takes you to a website that looks like your bank’s site, but it’s a fake one designed to collect your login information.
What makes phishing so effective is the scammers’ skill at mimicking real companies. Sometimes, they even use a technique called “spoofing” to make it look like the email is from a source you trust. They might use the same email structure, fonts, and logos as the genuine company.
In some cases, it could actually be the real website of the company but compromised by hackers. They sneak in malicious code that captures your data once you enter it.
Phishing preys on human behavior – our trust, our lack of attention to detail, and sometimes, our fears. The scams often seem very convincing, requiring a discerning eye to detect. The goal is always the same – to trick you into revealing sensitive information that can be used for fraudulent activities.
What Are the Types of Phishing Attacks?
Phishing comes in many ways, and understanding the different types can help you better defend against them. Below are some common phishing techniques to watch out for.
Whaling attacks go after big fish, usually senior leaders in a company. The scammers dig deep to find personal information that makes their fake message seem real. They often fake emails from high-ranking officials, asking for large payments to be made.
Spear Phishing Attacks
Spear phishing is very targeted. Scammers pick out specific people or businesses and use details unique to the victim. This might include using names of people you work with or events you recently attended. These touches make the fake email or message seem genuine, which is why they can be so deceptive.
Pharming reroutes you from a real website to a fake one without you knowing. This scam involves messing with the website’s address system to send you off course. You think you’re logging into your bank account, but you’re giving your information to a scammer.
Clone Phishing Attacks
Clone phishing takes a real email you’ve already received and turns it into a trap. Scammers copy an email you trusted enough to open, like a company newsletter, and then swap out the links or attachments with harmful ones. When you click, you’re hit with malware or redirected to the scammer’s site.
Evil Twin Attacks
Evil twin attacks create a copycat Wi-Fi network that looks like one you trust. If you connect to this phony network, scammers can see everything you do online. This includes any usernames and passwords you use.
SMS Phishing (Smishing)
Smishing uses text messages to trick you. You get a text message with a shortened link or a number to call. When you follow the instructions, you’re handing your details over to scammers. This is trickier on phones where the full URL is often hidden.
In calendar phishing, scammers send fake calendar invites. The invite pops up like any other calendar alert. When you open it, you’re greeted with a link that, if clicked, can do some real damage.
Voice Phishing (Vishing)
Vishing scams use voice messages to trick you. You get a voicemail saying there’s a problem with your bank or credit card account. The message urges you to call back. If you do, you’re asked for personal information like your account number or PIN.
Page Hijack Attacks
Page hijack attacks send you to a fake version of the website you want to visit. Scammers use weaknesses in website security to send you to their own site. Once there, any information you enter can be stolen.
Holiday Phishing Scams
Holidays are a time for joy, gifts, and family. But scammers are also out in full force, trying to spoil the festive season. Below are some common holiday scams to be aware of.
Fake Order Receipt
You might get an email that appears to be a receipt for something you didn’t buy. The email urges you to click on a link to correct the mistake. Don’t click! Scammers want you to panic and act without thinking. Once you click, you may download harmful software or be tricked into giving away personal information.
Spoofed Shipment Tracking
Another popular scam involves fake shipping notifications. You get an email or a text message claiming a package is on its way. The catch? You need to click on a tracking link. To be safe, always go to the official website to track your orders.
Charitable Contribution Scam
The holiday season is a time for giving, and scammers take advantage of this. You may get an email asking for a donation to a charity. Before you donate, check if the organization is legitimate. Use trusted websites to verify the charity’s credibility, or go directly to the official website to make your contribution.
Gift Card Phishing Scam
Gift cards are a popular gift choice, and scammers are aware of that. You might get an email offering a huge discount on gift cards. But to get the deal, you’re asked to enter your credit card information. Instead of saving money, you end up losing it. Stick to buying gift cards from reputable retailers or directly from the store.
Social Media Scams
Watch out for scams on social media platforms, too. You might see an ad for a great holiday deal or a contest to win a big prize. After clicking the ad, you’re taken to a site asking for personal details or a small fee to claim the prize. Stay skeptical and remember – if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Holiday Travel Scams
Holiday travel deals can also be full of traps. Scammers lure you in with cheap flights or hotel rooms. After paying, you find out the offer was fake. Protect yourself by booking directly with airlines or hotels or by using trusted travel websites.
How to Avoid Holiday Phishing Scams
So, you’ve learned about different types of scams that pop up during the holidays. But how do you steer clear of them? Here are some strategies that can help.
Practice Good Cybersecurity Hygiene
The first step in staying safe online is following basic cybersecurity rules. Always keep your software and antivirus programs up to date. Use strong, unique passwords for different accounts. Two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security, so enable it whenever possible. Check the URL before entering any personal information to make sure it starts with “https://” — the “s” stands for secure.
Know Your Buyer/Seller
Whether buying or selling, it pays to know who you’re dealing with. Do some research. Read reviews and ratings to get an idea of their reputation. If the website or person doesn’t have a history or the reviews seem fake, proceed with caution.
Be Wary of How You Pay
How you pay for your purchases matters. Credit cards usually offer more protection than debit cards or other methods. Never wire money to a seller, as it’s almost impossible to get back. Also, don’t give out your financial information unless you’re on a secure site and you initiated the contact with the merchant.
Deals Too Good to Be True
Everyone loves a good deal, especially during the holiday season. But be cautious. Scammers often lure people with offers that seem unbeatable. Always compare prices and read the fine print. It’s also a good idea to go directly to the retailer’s website instead of clicking on links from emails or social media.
What is a common indicator of a phishing attempt?
If you get an email or message that asks for personal information, be cautious. Also, look out for odd email addresses, bad grammar, and misspellings. Sometimes, the message will rush you, saying you need to act fast or something bad will happen. These are often signs you’re dealing with a phishing attempt.
What happens if I click on a phishing link?
Clicking a phishing link can lead to various problems. You might be asked to enter personal data, which can then be stolen. Or the link might automatically download harmful software onto your computer. If this happens, you need to run an antivirus scan and change your passwords immediately.
What is seasonal phishing?
Seasonal phishing scams pop up around specific times, like holidays or tax season. Scammers take advantage of these periods when people are busy and might be less vigilant. They’ll send out fake holiday deals and tax forms or even pretend to be a charity asking for donations.
Why does email phishing work?
Email phishing can be deceptive because it often looks like it’s from a trusted source. The scammers design their emails to look like they’re from companies you know, like your bank or a popular online store. They know people are more likely to click links or download attachments if they think it’s from a familiar place.
What is a phishing text message?
A phishing text message, also known as smishing, is like a phishing email but comes through your phone’s SMS. It will ask you to click a link or provide personal information. Always be skeptical of text messages that ask for personal data or direct you to a website, especially if you didn’t expect to get a text from that number.
What is a phishing website?
A phishing website is a fake site that looks like a real one, created to steal your information. Check the URL carefully. Often, these sites will have slight misspellings or odd characters. They usually don’t have the secure “https://” in the web address. If you enter your data here, you’re handing it right over to the scammers.
As phishing scams spike during the holiday season, it’s vital to remain alert. IdentityIQ identity theft protection services actively scans the dark web for your personal information and promptly notifies you when exposure is detected. Help stay protected and enjoy a worry-free holiday season with IdentityIQ identity theft protection services.