Are Scammers Coming For You This Holiday Season?
With Americans expected to spend an average of $1,000 this Christmas season, scammers are hard at work targeting holiday shoppers and givers with the latest Christmas scams.
Christmas scams can include everything from spoofed online stores to fake shipping notifications, fraudulent charities, phishing emails, and more.
If you fall for one of these scams, you could lose more than just your money. This year, more scammers are targeting your private information and online accounts — putting millions of Americans at risk of identity theft, hacking, and fraud.
In this guide, we’ll cover the worst Christmas scams of the 2023 holiday season and teach you how to avoid them and stay safe while shopping, gifting, and traveling this Christmas.
The 14 Worst Scams of Christmas 2023
- Lookalike shopping websites
- Fake social media ads for the holiday’s hottest gifts
- Gift-giving pyramid schemes
- Spoofed delivery notification texts and emails
- Fake job postings for temporary holiday jobs
- Malicious holiday apps
- Fraudulent charities and fundraising campaigns
- Grandparent scams and elderly fraud
- Scammers on Etsy, Craigslist, or Facebook Marketplace
- “Free” gift card scams
- The puppy scam
- Holiday travel phishing scams
- Card skimmers that steal your credit card information
- Porch pirates stealing your Christmas deliveries
Christmas is a busy time of year, making it the ideal season for con artists to prey on unsuspecting consumers. Here are the most pervasive scams to watch out for this year:
1. Lookalike shopping websites
Online shopping scams can take place at any time of the year, but are especially prevalent during the holiday shopping season.
Fraudsters create fake, spoofed, and lookalike websites with too-good-to-be-true deals on popular items in order to trick their victims into sending payment or sharing their credit card details and personal information.
At best, you may receive a counterfeit item. At worst, scammers could steal your identity, wrack up debt on your credit card, or open new accounts in your name and drown you in debt.
How to avoid fake online stores this Christmas season:
- Only shop from online retailers you know and trust. You’re less likely to get scammed when shopping on a store’s official website (like Walmart, Best Buy, or Amazon). Whenever possible, stick to known retailer websites or official shopping apps.
- Double-check the URL and site details before entering information. Always ensure you’re on a retailer’s official website and not a spoofed URL (such as “walmrat.com” instead of “walmart.com”). Look-alike holiday scams may also use professional web designs to closely mirror the appearance and feel of a standard retailer's site, but are often riddled with errors like typos, suspicious URLs, or incorrect customer service phone numbers.
- Use Safe Browsing tools to warn you before it’s too late. Aura’s all-in-one digital safety solution can warn you if you’re entering a dangerous, fake, or spoofed website — before you give away your payment or personal information. Learn more about how Aura keeps you safe online →
Pro tip: Fake shopping sites will often ask for payment in gift cards, wire transfers, cryptocurrencies, or even using payment apps like Zelle, Venmo, and Cash App. This is a clear red flag that you’re dealing with an online shopping scam.
2. Fake social media ads for the holiday’s hottest gifts
According to one study, 40% of all online shopping scams come from Facebook and Instagram ads [*]. Scammers may use hacked accounts and stolen photos to advertise steep discounts on luxury or in-demand goods — but the products either don’t arrive or are cheap knockoffs of what was advertised.
In an even more recent scam, fraudsters use TikTok and other social media platforms to pose as disgruntled employees who are “exposing” steep discount codes from their previous employer — as long as you’re willing to pay steep shipping costs upfront [*].
How to avoid social media scams over the holiday season:
- Don’t believe too-good-to-be-true deals. Fraudsters use deep discounts to get you to ignore the red flags of their scam. If a deal seems too good to be true, it most likely is.
- Research who posted the ad. Don’t blindly trust ads or social media posts. Check the official page that posted the ad to see if it’s legitimate. If a friend or contact shared the post, reach out to them directly to make sure their account hasn’t been hacked.
- Always check where a link is taking you. Hover over links on desktop computers to see where they’re taking you before clicking.
3. Gift-giving pyramid schemes
In this classic and ongoing Christmas scam, fraudsters create gift-giving schemes that are actually illegal pyramid schemes.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) labels these social media gift exchanges as "Secret Sister" exchanges. The thief sends you phishing emails, e-cards, or social media messages with an attractive invitation — send just one gift and receive up to 36 gifts back.
However, not only will you lose your gift and not receive the others that were promised to you, but fraudsters will now have your personal information.
The bottom line: Online gift exchanges are almost always a scam. If you want to be involved in one, find a local group or start an exchange with your friends, family, or coworkers.
4. Spoofed delivery notification texts and emails
With so many people shopping online during the holiday season, fraudsters send fake delivery notifications claiming your packages are delayed, require payments, or have other issues that need your attention.
These email and text message scams will include a link to click to “solve” the issue. But if you click it, you’ll be taken to a fake website that will steal your personal and payment information.
Last year alone, 34% of Americans received a fake notification about a delivery issue during the holiday season [*].
How to avoid fake delivery notifications this Christmas:
- Block spam text messages on your phone. Most smartphones allow you to block texts from unknown senders — but this can cause you to miss important messages. Instead, an AI-powered Call Assistant can more accurately block spam and scam from reaching you over the phone.
- Don’t click on links in suspicious messages. Any unsolicited text message or email is a potential phishing attack. Be very careful before clicking on links in them.
- Check your delivery status directly with the shipper. Instead of clicking on links in messages, go to the shipper’s official website and enter your tracking number to see if there’s actually an issue.
5. Fake job postings for temporary holiday jobs
Scammers know that the Christmas season can be financially hard on many people. Fraudsters post bogus work-from-home or in-person temporary holiday jobs to trick job-seekers into sharing their personal information or paying for non-existent “training” materials.
In one scam, an ad for airport shuttle drivers was posted on a 5000-member Facebook group [*]. But those who started the application process quickly got suspicious when they were asked to supply sensitive information, such as copies of their driver’s license, Social Security number (SSN), and more.
How to avoid fake job scams over the holiday season:
- Don’t share sensitive information in a job application. Wait until you’ve been hired and are sure the opportunity is legit before sharing your SSN, banking details, and other sensitive information.
- Question the interview process. Job scams will have short interviews — often over messaging platforms like WhatsApp. If you never speak with an actual recruiter or manager, it could be a scam.
- Do your own research on the company. See if they have an online presence and reviews on third-party sites like the Better Business Bureau (BBB) or TrustPilot.
💡 Related: 20+ Early Warning Signs Of a Fake Job Scam →
6. Malicious holiday apps
Both Apple and Google’s app stores are filled with free holiday-themed apps where kids can chat with Santa, track his progress from the North Pole, and play Christmas games.
While few of these apps could cause serious damage to your phone or tablet, they may include expensive in-app purchases and excessive advertising or ask for too many permissions on your device.
The bottom line: Check reviews on holiday apps and try them yourself before giving your kids access. If “free” apps require credit card details or ask for access to your phone’s microphone and camera, you probably want to skip them.
7. Fraudulent charities and fundraising campaigns
Fake charities (like veterans charity scams) are another type of scam to watch out for during the holidays. Con artists will create replica sites to copy the appearance of a legitimate charity’s website, and leverage fake social media campaigns to trick people with generous hearts into making “donations”.
Here are some places you can research a charity to make sure it’s legitimate:
- CharityNavigator.org contains a rating system for each charity, which allows you to make a more informed decision about where your money is going.
- The Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance features accredited charities and a searchable database.
- CharityWatch.org places special emphasis on financial transparency and unbiased reporting. Search results include a detailed rating system, and provide insight into how specific charities distribute their cash flow.
💡 Related: How To Quickly Spot and Avoid Charity Scams →
8. Grandparent scams and elderly fraud
Seniors are at greater risk of falling prey to Christmas scams around the holidays. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that consumers who were the age of 80 and older lost more money ($1,600) to fraud on average when compared to other age groups [*].
One especially callous scam includes criminals targeting grandparents and impersonating a grandchild or another young family member requesting money to escape a dire circumstance. Elderly victims may wire payments to a fake account number, only to discover that they've been deceived.
These types of scams are especially dangerous given the rise of AI tools that allow scammers to mimic your loved one’s voices.
Pro tip: Create a family codeword. Choose a word or phrase that only your family knows that you can use to prove a call is legitimate.
9. Scammers on Etsy, Craigslist, or Facebook Marketplace
Cybercriminals flood to marketplaces and forums during the holiday season to post scams or trick sellers into sending them items without paying. If you’ve missed out on a hot holiday gift item or are looking for a deal, you might be more likely to look past the warning signs that you’re dealing with a scam on Facebook Marketplace, Etsy, or Craigslist.
How to avoid marketplace scams this Christmas:
- Look out for low prices for high-ticket items. Scammers prey on your emotions by offering amazing deals that you won’t want to pass up. If an item is posted for a price that seems unrealistic, assume it’s fake.
- Don’t pay for items with gift cards or outside payment platform. While many platforms offer some form of purchase protection, fraudsters know that won’t apply to transactions made on third-party sites.
10. “Free” gift card scams
With gift card scams, an online vendor requests that you purchase gift cards to pay for an item instead of using a credit card or payment app like PayPal.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [*]:
One in four fraud victims have paid with a gift card, making it a popular vehicle for scammers to steal money from consumers.
Another type of scam popular during the Christmas season is when scammers offer free gift cards for popular stores or services (like Apple or Netflix) via unsolicited emails, phone calls, or text messages. Victims may be duped into sharing personal information in order to claim these fictitious cards.
The bottom line: If someone asks you to pay for goods or services with a third-party gift card, it’s a scam.
11. The puppy scam
Every Christmas, thousands of children get new puppies — as if on cue, puppy scammers impersonate breeders and post fake litters for sales.
Social media ads offering puppies for sale at discounted prices are an immediate red flag. Many phony sellers also ask for money upfront to cover the cost of shipping, insurance, and vaccinations.
In one example, a woman was tricked into wiring $400 to an online breeder via Western Union. But once the transfer was accepted, the breeder’s website disappeared and she never heard from them again [*].
The bottom line: If you’re buying a puppy or pet for your family this holiday season, work with a local breeder you can meet in person or — better yet — a rescue shelter.
12. Holiday travel phishing scams
Scams that dangle vacations abroad or local adventures may also be at an all-time high around Christmas. Lucrative deals especially around Black Friday or Cyber Monday entice eager vacationers to take advantage of bargain pricing.
Scam emails that tout free flights, guaranteed travel insurance policies, or inexpensive vacation rentals should also raise an alarm.
How to avoid travel scams this holiday season:
- Avoid discount online booking sites. A too-good-to-be-true flight or vacation package is almost always a scam (or, at the very best, misrepresented). However, you should be wary of any offers that seem too good to be true. Travel phishing scams use social engineering on spoofed travel websites to harvest personal information.
- Make sure you’re not on a spoofed website. Some scammers have created lookalike websites to mimic popular booking sites like Booking.com or Expedia. Always make sure you’re on the company’s official website before entering personal information.
- Don’t give out personal information on “follow up” calls. Another common travel scam is when fraudsters call to request additional information after you book a flight. They’ll request your flight information, credit card details, and more — all of which they can use to scam you and other people.
13. Card skimmers that steal your credit card information
Not all Christmas scams happen online. Credit card skimmers and shimmers are small devices that scammers place over or inside ATMs and card readers to steal your credit card details. Fraudsters hope that in the rush of the holiday season, you’ll be less likely to notice that a reader has been tampered with.
The bottom line: Avoid ATMs and card readers in public places that can easily tampered with — such as at gas stations or convenience stores. For more help, read our guide on how to spot a credit card skimmer →
14. Porch pirates stealing your Christmas deliveries
Criminals take advantage of the steady rise of online shopping and home delivery during the holiday season to rob Americans of their packages and payments — with Amazon packages making up a large percentage of stolen goods.
If your holiday packages are going missing, there’s unfortunately not much you can do to get it back unless you have a security camera and proof of the theft (in which case you should contact your local police).
Here’s how to protect your holiday packages from mail thieves:
- Sign up for USPS informed delivery and similar programs. Most shippers offer some form of “guaranteed” delivery that requires a photo or your signature to release packages. You can look into Amazon Photo on Delivery, UPS My Choice, and FedEx Delivery Manager.
- Get a secure mailbox. You can also look into other delivery options, such as a nearby secure pickup location.
💡 Related: Someone Stole My Mail. What Should I Do? →
How To Stay Safe and Avoid Christmas Scams
It feels like every year there are more Christmas scams to be aware of. Here’s what you can do to avoid the worst scams and protect yourself this holiday season:
Upgrade your digital security
A solid digital security solution can help you avoid the majority of online shopping scams, phishing attacks, and other schemes targeting you over the Christmas holidays.
For example, with Aura, you get:
- Powerful antivirus for all of your devices. Aura protects your computers and mobile devices from malware and other viruses.
- A military-grade virtual private network (VPN). This prevents hackers from intercepting your data and can also hide your browsing history from prying eyes.
- AI-powered scam and spam protection for your phone. Aura’s Call Assistant ensures spam and scam calls and texts can’t get through to you.
- Safe Browsing tools to warn you of fake websites. If you click on a fake ad or search listing, Aura will block malicious websites before you accidentally enter your payment details.
- Privacy Assistant to block invasive ads and tracking software. You’ll also get protection against invasive ads, annoying pop-ups, and website trackers that compromise your privacy online.
- Three-bureau credit monitoring with the industry’s fastest fraud alerts. Aura monitors your credit with all three bureaus as well as all of your financial accounts and can warn you in near real-time of suspicious activity.
Only make purchases from known retailers
Reputable, big-box retailers such as Amazon take website security seriously. As such, their brand must always remain reputable and trustworthy. To maintain a high degree of consumer trust, their websites are typically free of typos, odd design quirks, dark patterns, and other flaws that would detract from the shopping experience.
When exploring lesser-known sites, read customer feedback on third-party review sites to determine the website's legitimacy. You can also test the URL on Scam Adviser for added peace of mind.
This is not to say Amazon is free of delivery scams. If you get an unordered Amazon package, you might be the victim of a brushing scam.
Use strong passwords and a secure password manager
Most people use the same password across several online accounts. While this is convenient, it exposes you to identity theft and hacking.
Whenever possible, shop and checkout online as a “guest” so that websites don’t store your personal and financial information. When you have to create an account, follow best practices for password creation by ensuring your password is unique, at least 10 characters long, includes a combination of upper and lowercase letters, symbols, and numbers.
A password manager can help you keep track of all of your accounts — giving you easy access to your passwords whenever you need them and also warning you if they’ve been hacked or compromised.
Use your credit card, not your debit card
If you fall victim to a Christmas scam using a debit card, the odds of recovering your money are low, whether it's $10 or $10,000. But consumer protection works differently for credit cards.
Consumers are only liable for up to $50 on fraudulent activity on their credit cards. So if you’ve paid with a credit card (and not a debit card), you'll have a much better chance of recouping your money if you’re the victim of a Christmas scam — as the credit card company will cover most, if not all, of your stolen funds.
Were You the Victim of a Christmas Shopping Scam? Do This
If you realize you’ve been scammed, it might feel like you have no options for recourse. But it's essential to take action to prevent identity theft, and you might be able to recover your stolen funds in some instances.
Here are the first steps to take if you're a victim of a Christmas scam:
- Cut off contact immediately. Do not continue communication with the scammers; you only risk exposing further sensitive information.
- Alert family and friends. Tell your contacts not to respond to any suspicious messages requesting money or information.
- Cancel all future payments. If the cybercriminal has access to your bank account or other financial information, contact your bank and cancel any charges immediately. This should help protect you from other types of financial fraud.
- Freeze your credit. A credit freeze (or credit lock) stops fraudsters from opening new accounts or taking out loans in your name. Contact each of the major credit bureaus to request a credit freeze. Or, use Aura’s one-click credit lock to instantly lock and unlock your Experian credit file.
- Change your usernames and passwords. If you’ve been hacked or phished, you’ll need to change your usernames and passwords immediately.
- Regularly check your credit report and bank statements. Scammers are almost always after your financial accounts. Check for the warning signs of identity theft — such as strange charges on your bank statement or accounts you don’t recognize. An identity theft protection service like Aura can monitor your credit and statements for you and alert you to any signs of fraud.
- Consider signing up for identity theft protection. Aura’s top-rated identity theft protection monitors all of your most sensitive personal information, online accounts, and finances for signs of fraud. If a scammer tries to access your accounts or finances, Aura can help you take action before it’s too late. Try Aura’s 14-day free trial for immediate protection while you’re most vulnerable.
How do you report Christmas scams?
The faster you report the scam, the better the odds are that you can catch the thief and restore your funds or identity. If you are a victim of a scam, immediately report the incident to the following entities:
- Your bank or credit card company: Cancel any bank payments and request a chargeback with your credit card lender.
- The retailer: Inform the online store of the scam so they can investigate the issue and prevent others from becoming victims of fraud.
- The platform: If the scam involves an ad or message on social media, alert the company. They can take the ad or illegal pop-up down and investigate the scammer's account.
- The police: Provide any evidence of the theft to local law enforcement and the Internet Crime Complaint Center (ICCC) at ic3.gov. Formal documentation from the police or the ICCC will further help your financial institution combat scams.
Don’t Let Scammers Take Away Your Christmas Cheer
It’s an unfortunate fact that fraudsters are scheming to illegally profit from your in-person and online shopping activities this Christmas season.
Keep yourself safe this holiday season by purchasing from well-known, trustworthy brands. If you come across what looks like a “sweet deal” from a smaller retailer, always do your due diligence by checking for positive reviews, using your credit card instead of your debit card, and ensuring you’ve enabled antivirus security.
And for peace of mind this holiday season, consider signing up for Aura’s award-winning, all-in-one solution.