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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

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Traditions are a funny thing.

It wasn’t that long ago, or so it seems, the holiday shopping season officially started on Black Friday; a momentous occasion, we celebrated by camping out – in the middle of the night – to be the first in line to buy the hottest toy or high- tech gadget. Or we lost our minds jockeying past one another to try and get the last item on the shelf.

While it’s true, times have changed (a little) and with it, we get the opportunity to experience new traditions. In doing so, we’ve come to embrace technology as a way to make our lives easier, not only during the holidays, but with a lot of other things as part of our everyday life.

According to Adobe Analytics, Americans spent $9.8 billion in online purchases on Black Friday – an increase of nearly eight percent compared to a year ago. Add to that, although the doors to the stores were “closed” on Thanksgiving, according to the same report, we managed to spend $5.6 billion, in between carving our turkeys, gathering with our families, and watching football.

With all of this activity going on, cybercriminals are, once again, playing the role of the “grinch” (minus, of course, the change of heart and happy ending). By one estimate, nearly 75 percent of Americans experienced at least one type of holiday scam last year. As a result, $281 million dollars were lost to online shopping and non-delivery scams alone. According to, there is some great information about a variety of holiday-themed scams you’ll want to avoid, including:

  • Social media ads that lead you to fake online stores. Fraudsters use ads on social media to try to get you to go to fake stores that steal your money, credit card details, or personal information. In the worst case scenario, you could even become the victim of identity theft.
  • Fake delivery notification texts. Scammers send fake text messages claiming that a package you’re waiting for has been delayed or that you need to pay a fee before it can be delivered.
  • Fraudulent charities that steal your money. Con artists create fake charities or GoFundMe campaigns to trick you into sending money or sharing your personal information. ‍
  • Bogus deals on hard-to-find items or airline tickets. Many schemes take advantage of popular holiday items or inflated travel costs to get you to buy fake tickets or items.‍
  • Fake surveys, giveaways, and other phishing emails impersonating well-known brands. Scammers send emails (as well as texts and phone calls) claiming to be from companies you know, such as Amazon or Walmart. These messages use social engineering tactics to steal your passwords, personal information, and financial details.

Even with all of that, there are plenty of steps you can take – before making a purchase or a donation – to stay protected, such as:

  • Learning the signs of a fake or unsecured website.
  • Researching retailers before you start shopping (and visit the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker Website).
  • Securing your online accounts with strong passwords and two-factor authentication.
  • Watching out for scam phone calls.
  • Only buying gift cards from trusted vendors (avoiding auction sites).

As it’s often been said, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Trust your instincts and don’t let what seems like a good deal cloud your judgment. If it’s a donation, it’s OK to do some research to make sure the cause you’re supporting is real and the organization is a legitimate one. To learn more, visit the Better Business Bureau’s Charity Checker or Charity Navigator. The Federal Trade Commission also offers great advice for giving; everything from the five things to do before you donate to the tips highlighting the safest ways to donate on social media and crowdfunding sites.

If something does happen and you think you’ve been a victim of a scam, be sure to report it!

Here in Indiana, you can go to the Indiana Cybersecurity Hub website (that you’re on) and click on the link “Report a Cyber Incident”. The website features the steps you’ll want to take to report the cybercrime and the FREE resources that are available to help you.

Here’s hoping that you have a (cyber) safe holiday, as you click your way through to find something for everyone on your list!