Hacked for the Holidays: Tips to Avoid Phishing Scams

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‘Tis the season to be jolly, but amid the festive season, cybercriminals are having their own joyous celebration. In this digital age where holiday festivities intertwine with the online realm–from endless holiday cyber sales and shopping, cyber attackers are capitalizing to launch sophisticated phishing attempts. In the course of the 2022 holiday shopping season, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) documented reports from nearly 12,000 victims, reflecting financial losses exceeding $73 million. This blog aims to illuminate the common phishing scams during the holiday season, and how you can avoid falling victim. As we unwrap the layers of cyber risk and navigate avoiding scams, let’s ensure that the only surprises are the ones tucked under the tree.

Understanding Phishing Scams

Phishing scams are deceptive and malicious attempts to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information. Cybercriminals cast a wide net, hoping to lure victims by disguising themselves as trustworthy entities and persons, in fraudulent emails, messages, or websites. As we dive into the holiday season, hackers deploy crafty tactics, creating counterfeit holiday-themed emails or messages to mirror legitimate communications.Recognizing these tactics is crucial to avoid falling victim to holiday-themed phishing scams.

Common Holiday Scams to Watch For 

Gift Card Peek Scam: Scammers remove gift cards from the display, scratch off the protective silver coating covering the PIN code, record the code, and skillfully reapply a new coating. After a day or two, when the card is bought and activated, the scammer has the card number and PIN ready for use. Unfortunately, the unsuspecting gift card recipient ends up with a worthless card.

Lookalike Online Stores: To shop online safely, be cautious of lookalike online stores offering substantial discounts, as scammers may steal your credit card information or compel irreversible payment methods. Signs of a fake online store include significant discounts, poor quality elements like spelling and images, and the absence of essential company information.

Charitable Giving Scams: In a holiday drama of heartstring-tugging, scammers flood inboxes with deceptive donation requests. Ensure the donation is going to its proper cause by researching the charity and donating directly to the charity. 

Too-Good-To-Be-True Deal Scam: Scammers will present unrealistically low-priced holiday treasures on a stage set with fake websites. Question the magic – before buying, verify the deals’ legitimacy.

Holiday Airfare Travel Scam: In this situation, hackers don the guise of airline agents, seeking personal information in a tale of too-good-to-be-true airfare deals. Fly past the deception by heading straight to the airline’s website.

Online Shopping Malware Checkout Scam: Malicious actors introduce malware, turning the checkout page into a backstage trap for payment data. Inspect the stage – ensure secure protocols, read reviews, and be cautious of the script that involves excessive chargebacks.

Holiday Shipping Scam: Scammers use “smishing” to impersonate delivery services, seeking personal details. Dodge this by avoiding suspicious links in text messages. Keep a watchful eye on your purchase script and anticipate legitimate delivery notifications.


7 Tips to Avoid Falling Victim

Firstly, verifying the legitimacy of all emails and messages by scrutinizing sender addresses, checking for generic content, and confirming unexpected attachments or links is the first critical step in thwarting threats. Avoiding the impulse to click on unfamiliar links or download suspicious attachments adds an extra layer of protection. Implementing multi-factor authentication enhances security, requiring additional verification beyond passwords. By adhering to these tips, individuals can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to phishing scams this holiday season. 

  1. Continuous Education and Awareness: Stay updated on the evolving landscape of phishing tactics. Regularly check reliable cybersecurity sources, blogs, or industry updates to be aware of the latest scams.
  2. Scrutinizing Sender Addresses: Pay meticulous attention to email sender addresses. Legitimate entities use official and recognizable addresses. Be skeptical of any deviation or misspelling in the sender’s email address.
  3. Checking for Generic Content: Legitimate communications usually include personalized details and specific information. Be cautious if you receive generic greetings or messages lacking personalization.
  4. Confirming Attachments and Links: Hover over hyperlinks without clicking to preview the destination URL. Ensure that the URL matches the purported sender’s website, and be cautious if it redirects to an unfamiliar or suspicious domain.
  5. Avoiding Impulsive Clicks and Downloads: Resist the impulse to click on links or download attachments from unknown or unexpected sources. Also, implementing browser extensions or email security tools that can scan and identify potentially malicious links or attachments in real-time.
  6. Implementing Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Enable MFA wherever possible, especially for sensitive accounts and applications. This additional layer of security ensures that even if login credentials are compromised, unauthorized access is thwarted.
  7. Avoid Ad Clicking: Avoid clicking on online ads because more than a third of adults have encountered fraud while purchasing products through them. Clicking on certain ads can result in the download of malicious software on your devices or redirect you to cloned sites mimicking legitimate stores.

By incorporating these specific measures into your cybersecurity practices, you’ll not only reduce the risk of falling victim to phishing scams but also contribute to creating a more resilient and secure online environment. So, here’s to a happy and secure holiday season filled with genuine joy and minimal online drama. Stay safe, stay festive!




Written by Samantha Parker

Samantha Parker is a Partner Marketing Specialist at AgileBlue. She is a proud graduate of Kent State University. Samantha currently serves part-time as a soldier in the Army National Guard.

December 12, 2023

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