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Wouldn’t it be nice if criminals took a break for the holidays, leaving the rest of us to enjoy our celebrations without the worry of scams and fraud? Unfortunately, they don’t slow down at this time of year, and if anything, scammers actually ramp up their activity to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers.

Luckily, you can preserve your holiday cheer and reduce your chances of becoming a victim by learning a few signs of some common scams. Remember, these scams can take on holiday-themed forms at this time of year but can still be a threat all year long.

1. Secret Sister/Gift Exchange Scam – You may have already seen social media posts for a secret sister gift exchange, but know this: no matter who posted it or how much fun it claims to be, it’s a scam. Even worse, depending on how it manifests and where you live, it may even be illegal to participate.

This one works in a similar vein to a pyramid scheme. You buy six to ten gifts and mail them to other people on the list, and in turn, future participants send you gifts. Your initial handful of gifts is supposed to multiply as the list gets bigger, but too many victims of this scam report that all they got was a hit to their bank accounts when they sent off those first gifts.

2. Charity Scams – Thieves take full advantage of our goodwill and generosity, often with sad situations that make us feel grateful to have so much. With the widespread availability of crowdfunding and online posting through social media, it can be very difficult to know who to help and how. Be safe this season by designating your donations before the holidays and choosing reputable organizations whose values align with your own.

3. Shipping, Fake Retail Scams – As our holiday shopping gets fully underway, it can be hard to discern genuine retailers and their messages from the phonies. Copycat websites, fake internet storefronts and bogus emailed receipts that trick us into divulging sensitive information are just a few of the tools scammers can use to steal your identity, your money or both.

4. E-Cards – There are several reputable websites that offer adorable “e-cards,” complete with photo personalization, animated video, and even musical sound effects. Unfortunately, the cards arrive as an email in your inbox telling you to click the link to view it; it takes no tech skill whatsoever to launch a spam email campaign that tricks recipients into downloading a virus instead of a delightful card. Make sure you verify it with the sender before you click any links.

5. Seasonal Employment – There’s never a time when most of us couldn’t use a little extra money, and scammers take advantage of that fact even more at the holidays. Bogus job offers that steal your identifying information, criminal scams that get you to “reship” stolen property and too-good-to-be-true jobs that require you to send in money or access to your bank account are just some of the ways scammers posing as employers can harm you.

This holiday season, arm yourself with information so you won’t have to waste time worrying about scams and fraud. Also, do your friends and family a favor: give the gift of awareness by keeping others informed about these scams and more.


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If you’re like many US consumers, you may already be thinking ahead to your Black Friday or Cyber Monday shopping. After all, it’s a good idea to be prepared: know what your budget is, scope out what gifts you may be looking for, have your retail shopping accounts already created and secured with a strong, unique password, even have your credit or debit cards ready so that you don’t expose your data or spend unwisely.

Now in its seventh year, there’s another holiday that follows right on the heels of the shopping extravaganza, one that is truly a remarkable kickoff to the holiday season: Giving Tuesday. When the dust settles from the flurry of early shopping, it’s a good time to spread some goodwill by contributing to a worthy cause.

Of course, your favorite charity could use your support at any time of year, so what makes #GivingTuesday so special? For starters, the social media buzz surrounding the event can help encourage donors who may not have known about the annual holiday. Also, a number of companies offer to match funds that day, helping to spread your generous donation even further.

Unfortunately, any time a newsworthy event takes place, scammers are ready to strike. That’s why it’s important to be ready for Giving Tuesday and avoid impulse donations unless you can trust the source:

1. Plan now for how your donation will be made – Will you use a crowdfunding site? A payment app? A credit card or debit card? By knowing how you’re going to give, you can avoid some of the scams that may pop up.

2. Know where your money is going – Some generous consumers like to split their donations among different causes, such as an animal advocacy group, a veterans’ organization, and a charity that provides meals for the homeless. Others might choose to rotate their donations year to year in order to give the maximum support they can afford to a much-needed organization. In any case, if you make your plans now—even if you wait to make the donation until the actual holiday—you’ll be less likely to be taken in by a phony charity request. Verify your favorite charities through Guidestar or BBB Wise Giving.

3. Be careful about oversharing – One sure sign that a donation request is a scam is if they ask for a ridiculous amount of personal data. Yes, charities do like to get contact information so they can follow up with you later, and some charities need to collect small amounts of demographic info. But anyone who wants your birth date, Social Security number, any kind of account numbers or login credentials or other sensitive info should be avoided.

It’s important that we all do what we can to help agencies and organizations who do important work, but at the same time, it’s okay to be hesitant when it comes to your security. Be on the lookout for scams and fraud, and avoid any scenario that makes you uncomfortable. Giving Tuesday is a great opportunity to offer your support but do your homework to ensure that your donation is going to the right people while protecting your privacy.

For more information on Giving Tuesday—both as an individual donor or for information on helping worthy causes get involved—visit GivingTuesday.org.


Read next: “Secret Sisterhood” Online Gift Exchange Scam Alert