Many Americans are bracing for a different holiday experience in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has been forcing dramatic changes in our work and social lives since it began spreading across the country. Zoom meetings, curbside grocery pickup, and masks are starting to feel routine, but there’s one thing that will stay the same: Identity thieves want to steal your information.
It’s no surprise that criminals are ramping up their phishing efforts ahead of the holiday shopping season. People are very vulnerable to phishing emails and text messages when they’re receiving so many messages from retailers and shipping chains to confirm purchases and deliveries. Couple that risk with the added complication of rampant coronavirus misinformation, and you exponentially increase the chance that your identity could be stolen.
That’s why a pair of Federal Trade Commission warnings could save you and your family from additional holiday heartache.
Don’t pay with a gift card
Legitimate government agencies will never require payment via gift cards. If you are a subscriber to Internal Revenue Service newsletters and regularly keep an eye out for Security Summit updates—hint: you should—then you already know this is a preferred tactic for phishing scammers.
That said, the FTC has four tips for purchasing and managing legitimate gift cards:
- Buy gift cards from sources you know and trust. Think twice about buying gift cards from online auction sites, to avoid buying fake or stolen cards.
- Inspect gift cards before you buy. A gift card should have all its protective stickers in place. Report the card to the store if anything looks scratched off or damaged.
- When you buy, save the receipt. Keeping the gift card receipt can be helpful if you run into problems with the card.
- Treat gift cards like cash. Report a lost or stolen gift card to the card’s issuer immediately. Most card issuers have toll-free numbers you can find online to report a lost or stolen card. Depending on the card issuer, you may even be able to get some money back.
Beware fake shipping emails!
If you’re like me, you do almost all of your shopping online. The obvious downsides are turning your front door into a shipping bay and filling your inbox with UPS alerts. And that’s exactly the opening that identity thieves are using to steal your information.
The FTC warns that scammers are sending emails and text messages that are “supposedly from UPS or FedEx, complete with one of their logos.” The messages ask you to update your shipping preferences by clicking on a link or attachment, which—as with most phishing scams—either ask you for your information or download information-stealing malware to your device.
Report suspected scams!
It’s easier to prevent scams when you and your family know how to spot them.
That’s why the FTC wants you to report suspected scams when you see them in the wild.
- Report consumer-related scams at ReportFraud.FTC.gov
- Report tax-related scams at Phishing@IRS.gov
Be sure to check out FTC.gov for more information about the agency’s 12 Days of Consumer Protection educational outreach campaign.