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  • The 2020 COVID-19 holiday season is upon us. This year, consumers should be on the lookout for job scamsgiving scamsgrandparent scams and online shopping scams, to name a few.  
  • If anyone comes across an unknown message regarding the COVID-19 holiday season, they should ignore it and go directly back to the source to confirm the message’s legitimacy. 
  • People should take steps to protect their personal information when shopping online, taking part in holiday gatherings (both in person or via a video platform), at the gas pump, and when receiving electronic gifts. 
  • To learn more, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free at 888.400.5530 or via live-chat on the company website.  

COVID-19 has changed the way people live. Many people are working from home, there are restrictions on what people can do in public, and many businesses remain shut down or open at a limited capacity. It has also changed the way scammers attack consumers. 

The 2020 holiday season will also be much different than year’s past. According to IBM’s latest U.S. Retail Index Report, COVID-19 has accelerated the shift away from physical stores to digital shopping by roughly five years. 

Criminals may adopt new tactics to take advantage of the pandemic, but what will not be different is scammers’ and identity thieves’ ability to find ways to strike.  

Watch for COVID-19 Holiday Scams   

Here are some scams to watch for this COVID-19 holiday season. 

1. Job Scams – Much of the economy remains shut down or open in a limited capacity. Millions of people are looking to gig economy jobs like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash to get by. People could rely on gig economy jobs even more during the holidays to make extra cash. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported losses of $134 million in 2019 to social media scams.

In the first half of 2020, the FTC already reported $117 million, with most scams coming from viewing an ad. Scammers may claim in advertisements that they can get shoppers access to premium jobs for the holidays with big tips in exchange for an upfront fee. Gig economy scams can also lead consumers to phishing websites that steal login credentials. 

2. Giving Scams – People typically give more to charities around the holiday season. However, with more families in need of help in 2020, we may see an even bigger increase in people making donations. Expect criminals to attack with giving scams, looking to steal people’s money and personal information. In fact, scammers have used giving scams to take advantage of people since the beginning of the pandemic.  

3. Grandparent Scams – Another popular holiday scam is the grandparent scam. A grandparent scam is where scammers claim a family member is in trouble and needs help. With the holidays here, scammers could pose as sick family members. 

4. Online Shopping Scams – Many more people will be shopping online this holiday season. According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), 65 percent of people shopped online last year. This year, online shopping is expected to increase by 10 percent to 75 percent. With the increase in web traffic, consumers should be wary of messages claiming they have been locked out of their accounts. Scammers may send phishing emails making such claims while looking to steal usernames, passwords and account information.  

How to Protect Yourself from COVID-19 Holiday Scams 

While scammers will try to trick consumers, there are things people can do to protect themselves from a COVID-19 holiday scam. 

  • If someone comes across an ad for a job or a deal online that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Consumers should go back to the source directly by contacting the company to confirm the message’s validity. 
  • If someone receives an email, text message or phone call they are not expecting, ignore it. If any of the messages contain links, attachments or files, do not click or download them because they could have malware designed to steal people’s personal information or lead to a phishing attack. Again, consumers should reach out directly to who the caller, email sender or text message sender claimed to be or the company they claimed to be with.  
  • People should only donate to legitimate charities and organizations registered with their state.   Consumers can determine if a charity, non-profit or company is legitimate by searching for the charity’s charitable registration information on the Secretary of State’s website, looking for online reviews and Googling the entity with the word “scam” after it. 
  • No one should ever make a payment over the phone to someone they do not know or were not expecting to hear from. Scammers will try to trick people with robocalls to steal their sensitive information and commit identity theft. 

How to Protect Your Personally Identifiable Information (PII) This Holiday Season 

Identity Thieves will try different ways to steal people’s PII. It is crucial consumers can protect their PII during the holidays, and year-round, to make sure it does not end up in the hands of a criminal.  

1. At the Pump – More people will travel by car this year than usual. Travelers on the road should keep an eye out for gas station skimmers. Skimmers insert a thin film into the card reader or use a Bluetooth device at a gas pump to steals the card’s information that allows the thief to misuse the payment card account. If the pump looks tampered with, pay inside. Newer gas pumps use contactless technology and chipped payment cards that are very secure. Use those pumps if possible.  

2. Holiday Gatherings – It is always important to protect all personal information at holiday gatherings. While no one ever imagines a trusted friend or family member will go through their stuff, people fall victim every year. Keep wallets or purses with financial cards or I.D. cards within reach.  

3. Zoom and Other Online Video Platforms – Not all family gatherings will be in person in 2020 due to COVID-19. Some families will meet virtually via a video platform. When people use a video platform, it’s important they remember to secure the call by using strict privacy settings and not sharing any personal information with someone they don’t know.  

4. Shopping Online – With more people shopping online for the 2020 holiday season, people need to practice good cyber hygiene. Make sure to navigate directly to a retailer’s website rather than click on a link in an ad, email, text or social media post. Phishing schemes are very sophisticated these days and spotting a spoofed website of well-known and local brands can be difficult even for trained cybersecurity professionals. 

Consumers will still need to do their due diligence to ensure a business website is legitimate. There is inherently less risk of falling for a scam website by shopping at well-known retailers. It only takes a bit of homework to separate the scams from legitimate small online businesses. Using search terms like “Scam” or “Complaints” along with the website or company name can give people insight into the experience of other customers. 

When setting up a new online account, be sure to use multi-factor authentication. Multi-factor authentication creates a second layer of security to reduce the risk of a criminal taking over someone’s account. 

5. Electronic Gifts – With the advent of smart home devices, many gifts connect to the internet, presenting security risks. It is important consumers update the software on the device. It is also a good idea to have antivirus software installed on any computer, tablet or internet device if possible, along with a secure password on the home network router.  

For more information on how to stay safe during the COVID-19 holiday season contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free at 888.400.5530 or live-chat with an identity theft advisor at no-cost.

For access to more resources, download the ITRC’s free ID Theft Help app.  


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Mystery Shopper Scams Resurface during COVID-19

  • Two new research papers from OpSec Security and Consumer Reports shows how consumer privacy and cybersecurity views are evolving across the U.S. 
  • Findings in the OpSec Security report show that cyberattacks and data breaches are pervasive, and consumers are concerned and desensitized by the volume of information compromises. 
  • The Consumer Reports report concludes that consumers believe companies are primarily responsible for protecting the personal information businesses collect, store and use. 
  • For more information on the latest data breaches, visit the Identity Theft Resource Center’s (ITRC) data breach tracking tool, notifiedTM. It is updated daily and free to consumers.  
  • For cybersecurity, privacy or data breach advice, contact the ITRC toll-free at 888.400.5530 or by live-chat on the company website. 

Privacy and cybersecurity impact consumers. Two new research papers show how consumer privacy and cybersecurity views are evolving across the U.S. The reports validate a central concern among consumers that there is not enough done to protect their most precious possession; their name. 

Subscribe to the Weekly Breach Breakdown Podcast 

Every week the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) looks at some of the top data compromises from the previous week and other relevant privacy and cybersecurity news in our Weekly Breach Breakdown Podcast. This week, we will look at two new research reports. The first focuses on recent changes in consumer attitudes. The second takes a longer-term look at how consumer privacy and cybersecurity views are different now compared to 25 years ago when the modern commercial internet was born.

The Importance of Reputation 

Reputations are important to individuals, companies and organizations. That’s why OpSec Security, a global cybersecurity firm, recently surveyed 2,600 consumers throughout the U.S. and four European countries. Researchers asked consumers whether they have been affected by cybercrime, their perceptions of brands, and if their role – or the role they should play – in keeping consumers safe has changed over time. 

The findings show that cyberattacks and data breaches are pervasive and consumers are both concerned and desensitized by the volume of information compromises. Some of the key findings in the last year include the following: 

  • 40 percent of respondents were a victim of an email or phishing scam
  • 51 percent of respondents say they receive more phishing attempts now than before the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • 35 percent of respondents experienced credit or debit card fraud. 
  • 21 percent of respondents were a victim of identity theft at some point.  

Meanwhile, 30 percent of respondents were impacted by a data compromise, which did not surprise nearly one-third of the people who received a data breach notice. Of those who had their data compromised, 46 percent were contacted more than five times. Almost half of those who haven’t received a data breach notice, 48 percent, are worried they will soon.  

Those 30 percent of consumers in the OpSec survey who say they had their data compromised in a data breach equal the same percentage of people who responded to a similar question from Consumer Reports.  

Consumers Think Businesses are Responsible for Protecting Personal Information 

Both surveys came to a similar conclusion: consumers believe companies are primarily responsible for protecting the personal information businesses collect, store and use. Consumer Reports surveyed more than 5,000 U.S. residents about privacy and security. They also reviewed past research to show how consumer attitudes changed over time. 

  • In 1995, 44 percent of consumers were worried “a lot” or “some” about losing privacy due to the internet. 
  • By 2002, 76 percent of survey respondents were uncomfortable about companies collecting data about them. However, 94 percent thought they had a legal right to see what data the company collected about them from a website. 
  • Fast forward to 2019; 65 percent of consumers said they do not believe their personal information is kept private. 

In the Consumer Reports research published in October, 96 percent of consumers surveyed agreed that more could be done to ensure companies protect consumer information. Other findings include the following: 

  • 68 percent of consumers surveyed believe companies should be required to delete the data they have about someone upon the consumer’s request. 
  • 67 percent of respondents think there should be tougher penalties, like high fines, for companies that don’t protect someone’s privacy. 
  • 63 percent say companies should be required to give consumers access to the data companies have about them. 
  • 63 percent also believe there should be a national law that says companies must get a person’s permission before sharing their information. 

There are now laws, passed in multiple states, that include one or more of the items from the consumers’ privacy wish list above, but a national privacy law remains elusive. 

Built-In Privacy Features 

One finding that did not emerge from either survey on consumer privacy and cybersecurity views was a consensus around what consumers want to happen next to protect their information. Consumer Reports notes that companies are beginning to build products with built-in privacy features. More than 40 percent of consumers say they may be willing to pay companies to stop collecting, sharing and selling their personal information. Right now, that practice is prohibited in California, the state with the toughest privacy law in the U.S.  

notifiedTM  

For more information about recent data breaches, consumers and businesses should visit the ITRC’s new data breach tracking tool, notifiedTM. It is updated daily and free to consumers. Organizations that need comprehensive breach information for business planning or due diligence can access as many as 90 data points through one of the three paid notified subscriptions. Subscriptions help ensure the ITRC’s identity crime services stay free.   

Contact the ITRC 

If you receive a breach notice and would like to know how to protect yourself, contact the ITRC at no-cost by calling 888.400.5530 to speak with an expert advisor. You can also live-chat with an advisor on the company website. Also, download the free ID Theft Help App to access advisors, data breach resources, a case log and much more.  

Join us on our weekly data breach podcastto get the latest perspectives on the last week in breaches. Subscribe to get it delivered on your preferred podcast platform.   


Read more of our latest information & educational resources below

Unsubscribe Email Scam Looks to Trick Consumers

Social Media Scams are on the Rise as More People Use the Platforms to Connect

Phishing Attack Report Reveals Microsoft is the Top Spoofed Brand and Other Data Breach News

With the record-setting numbers of data breaches and compromised consumer records, you might think becoming a victim is inevitable. If you can’t control whether or not someone breaks into a major network or leaves a vast database of customer data unsecured online, then you can’t control things like identity theft, either…right?

Not exactly. Obviously, preventing large-scale data breaches is out of the consumers’ hands, and there are treasure troves of stolen credentials available to criminals on the dark web. But that kind of activity isn’t the only way that individuals’ information is leaked online. Sometimes, our everyday tech behaviors can put our personal identifiable information and financial information at risk of theft.

Data Privacy Day (DPD), officially hosted the National Cybersecurity Alliance is an international effort held annually on Jan. 28 to create awareness about the importance of respecting privacy, safeguarding data and enabling trust.

There is perhaps no better way to kick off your new year than by taking part in the various events surrounding this important day. You can get involved by sharing content with a local group at a community center, get a better understanding of the issues, or simply setting aside some time in your day to take stock of your own cybersecurity strengths and weaknesses.

Of course, you don’t have to wait to begin working towards better data protection. You can start right now with things like:

Some things might be out of your hands, but that doesn’t mean throw in the towel. Your information very well could be “out there,” but getting a good sense of your data privacy and protecting it to the best of your ability can reduce your risk of additional cybercrimes.

For more information, check out the full Data Privacy Day resource guide by the NCSA.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.