10 Holiday Scams to Watch Out For

It’s the season of giving—don’t let fraudsters take advantage of your holiday good will.

You’re probably shopping more, spending more, and potentially providing sensitive financial information more than at any other time of the year. Here are some of the more common holiday scams you or a family member might encounter, as well as some tips for staying safe while doing your holiday shopping.

 

1. Phishing/Vishing/Smishing

One of the most common holiday scams or scams in general is the phishing email. You receive an email, phone call, or text message appearing to be from your financial institution or another reputable source. A link may be provided containing spyware, or you are asked to verify sensitive information such as your username, password, card data, or account information.

Tip

Never click on a link or provide information you are unsure about. You can always call a financial institution or any other company yourself to verify a message you receive.

Important reminders

Did someone contact you claiming to be an employee of Alaska USA? Remember:

  • Alaska USA will never ask for your account information.
  • You will never be asked to provide online password or pin.
  • Immediately contact Alaska USA at 800-525-9094 if you suspect fraud.
10 Holiday Scams to Watch Out For

2. Sweetheart scams

A romance or friendship begins online, but when it comes time to meet, the romancer has a problem and they need assistance that almost always involves sending money or gift cards to them. Typically, the love interest is overseas. This could be a holiday scam or occur at any time of year.

Tip

Be very hesitant about sending money or providing financial and personal information to someone you’ve never met.

 

3. Lottery scams

You receive notification that you have won a lot of money or a fantastic prize in a holiday competition, lottery, or sweepstakes that you don’t remember entering. To claim the prize, you are asked to pay a fee for insurance costs, government taxes, or courier charges. Sometimes you will receive a check for part of the winnings to appear legitimate—however, the check is fraudulent and will bounce. This is a frequently seen holiday scam.

Tip

Ask yourself if you entered a particular contest. If you don’t remember entering it, the prize is likely a fake. Some scammers use the names of organizations that run real sweepstakes.

 

4. Job scams

Fake jobs are posted everywhere—on social media, authentic websites, job boards, legitimate employer websites. This is especially true during the holidays when hard working people are looking to earn some extra money. You might even be contacted directly, after a fraudster views your resume on a job board. The job is often advertised as no experience required, easy work with excellent pay, no interview necessary. Often you need to purchase something from them to get started, or you they’ll offer to pay you before you even start the job. Sometimes any email communication you receive is different from the company offering the job, or they only want to talk via a messaging service.

Tip

Do an internet search of the company. If you only find job postings or warnings—no evidence that a legitimate company exists—it could be a scam.

 

5. Panic scam

A caller contacts you to provoke panic and catch you off guard in a variety of ways. Your utility company demanding immediate payment, a U.S. Marshall claiming your identity is being used to smuggle drugs, a law enforcement agency claiming your child or loved one is in danger, or a medical professional claiming a loved one has been injured. These scams are designed to try and catch you off guard, especially when the stress of the holidays has your thoughts on other things.

Tip

Often the request to send money is in a non-traditional payment form, such as a gift card or wire transfer, so it cannot be traced, reversed, or canceled.

Safe online shopping tips

Online shopping grows more and more each day, and is rapidly becoming the primary way people do their holiday shopping. Here’s a few tips to keep you personal and financial information safe when shopping online.

  • Make sure your device is using an up-to-date browser—software is frequently updated to prevent vulnerabilities from hackers and fraudsters.
  • Don’t use public Wi-Fi to make online purchases. A secure connection at home helps ensure you haven’t connected to a vulnerable—or fake—network.
  • Don’t click links to Black Friday sales from emails or social media sites; go directly online to the site yourself and then find your sale item.
  • Always look for the lock symbol next to a websites URL before purchasing. The lock means the website you’re on uses encrypted security.
  • Log out of any website and then close your browser when you’re done with your purchase.
  • If you can, use a credit card instead of a debit card to make online purchases. If something goes wrong, it’s much easier to dispute a credit card charge.
  • Don’t save your credit card info to the account. It may seem more convenient, but then you lose control over that piece of financial information.
  • Shop early; some things are taking longer to arrive and many retailers are offering Black Friday deals now.
  • Sign up to track your packages to thwart porch pirates; consider curbside pickup instead of delivery if it’s an option for you.

Monitor your credit card charges online so that any fraud is caught and stopped asap.

6. Gift card scam

A check is presented for a variety of reasons, and in return you are asked to purchase gift cards and provide the card number and security information over the phone. A few days later the check bounces.

Tip

Do not accept checks from someone you do not know, and if you have, explain the situation to your financial institution before trying to deposit it!

 

7. Advance fee scam

This is another one of the most common types of holiday scams or fraud. You are asked to pay a small up-front fee in anticipation of receiving something of greater value—such as a loan, contract, investment, or gift. You actually receive little or nothing in return.

Tip

Like many scams, the request to send money is in a non-traditional payment form, such as a gift card or wire transfer, so it cannot be traced, reversed, or canceled.

 

8. Online sales scam

Criminals post fraudulent online classified advertisements offering vehicles or merchandise for sale that are not, nor have ever been, in their possession. If you are the seller, a fake buyer sends a check for an amount more than the asking price. You are then asked to return the additional funds to a delivery guy or someone who is supposed to ship the item. This scam is especially important to watch out for during the holidays when online shopping is at an all-time high and everyone is feeling the pressure to check items off their gift lists.

Tip

Buy and sell in-person only, and make sure you’re in a safe and public location when making the transaction. Some police departments even offer Safe Trade locations where you can safely conduct in-person transactions.

 

9. Unclaimed property

You receive an email, letter or phone call claiming to be from a legitimate department for unclaimed property, possibly from an unknown relative who has passed and left you an inheritance. You may be asked to open a new account and provide that information to the company for them to send a check. A fee is always associated with the claiming of the property. Any check you receive will bounce.

Tip

Research the business and contact them at their published number to learn if the claim is legitimate.

10. Potential fraud on your account

You receive a call from someone who says they are from your financial institution, and that they have detected suspicious activity on your account. The caller may already have some of your information and use it to convince you the call is legitimate, but will request any information they may not have that they need to commit fraud.

Tip

Do not give out your information to any call you did not initiate. For instance, Alaska USA may call you if there is suspicious activity on your account, but they will not ask you for sensitive information. If you have doubt, hang up and call the published number for your financial institution.

10 Holiday Scams to Watch Out For

What should I do if I think I’ve encountered a scam?

Armed with the above knowledge you’re much better equipped to see a scam coming. Since almost all holiday scams are related to your finances, you should immediately call the Alaska USA Member Service Center, 24/7, at 800-525-9094. It doesn’t matter if you’re completely certain or not, we have fraud specialists who would love to listen to your story and help you in any way they can—and the sooner they know what’s going on, the better.

From all of us at Alaska USA, have a wonderful and safe holiday season!

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