Holiday scams: How thieves can steal your money and identity through fake websites and phishing

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Friday, December 8, 2023
How scammers are trying to steal from you this holiday season
Holiday shopping means holiday scams. Here are the most popular ways to steal your information, your money and even your identity.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Tis' the season for holiday scams, and the I-Team has a warning about the most popular holiday rip-offs this year.

"We found out that nearly one third of Americans, 29%, have been targeted by scammers when shopping online for holidays with actually half of them falling victim and losing an average of $1,500," said Norton security expert Iskander Sanchez-Rola.

Scam 1: Fake websites

Fake websites can take your money and not deliver gifts, or sending consumers an inferior, fake product. Consumers can stumble onto these false websites though a bad Google search, social media direct message or other messages sent online or through texts.

"Especially if someone has emailed you or texted you a link, don't go to that link, go directly to the company's website," said Kevin Brasle, executive editor of Consumers' Checkbook.

Security experts say those fake links are the biggest scam to watch out for this holiday season.

"They're just so happy that they found this product that they wanted so cheap," Sanchez-Rola said. "But many times it doesn't make sense."

Bianca Lackings said she's avoided fake websites that offered dresses for $2. Experts say to look closely at URLs and look for one minor misspelling. For example, the URL may be spelled as "Amazen," instead of the correct spelling, Amazon.com. Also, make sure that the beginning of the URL reads "HTTPS" without any letters missing.

"If you see something and it is way too cheap to be true, chances are that it's a scam," Lackings said.

If you're shopping on a lesser-known website, read product reviews first.

Scam 2: Phishing links disguised as package tracking

Another common scam involves texts and emails notifying consumers of a package delivery and requiring you to click a link to track the package.

"I get those texts all of the time to click on the link," consumer Diana Sanmiguel said.

"The problem is a lot of people are expecting to get messages from UPS, FedEx, other retailers and people who are shipping things to us," Brasler said. "So, the criminals know this and so now they've really ramped up the fake emails."

Even though those links may flood your phone, clicking on them can convince you to give up personal information or download malware onto your device. If you are expecting a package, go directly to the site where you ordered from and track it from there. You can also reach out directly to the delivery service for updates.

Scam 3: Mail theft and porch pirates

Thieves may target your home mailbox or steal mailbox keys to obtain checks and gift cards.

"If you send a gift card or a check through the mail, don't drop it off through one of the drop boxes," Brasler said. "Take it to the post office or hand it directly to your carrier and then follow up, make sure that the recipient actually got it."

You can also send gift cards and money electronically to loved ones, but experts say to verify that it's going to the right email or cell phone number.

Additionally, like every year, consumers should also watch out for "porch pirates" who can steal items from the outside of your home. You can install a motion camera at your door or consider having packages dropped off at another secure location.

Experts say to follow all these warnings for a scam-free holiday season.