The 5 Most Common Holiday Shopping Scams

‘Tis the season to be cautious!

We are decking the halls and trimming the trees. Lighting the menorahs and counting down the days to the holidays. But, while this time of year is typically filled with good vibes and cheer, it’s also ripe for scammers to target vulnerable shoppers. We chatted with Darius Kingsley, Head of Consumer Business Practices at Chase Bank, for all of his best tips for avoiding getting conned. Below, the five most common seasonal scams—how to spot them and what to do when you encounter them. 

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Meet the Expert

Darius Kingsley has been the Managing Director and Head of Consumer Business Practices at JPMorgan Chase & Co. for nearly 7 years as well as Managing Director and General Counsel, Mortgage Banking for about 4 years prior to his current role. Between 2009 and 2013, Kingsley held two roles in the U.S. Department of Treasury, one as part of the Senior Counsel and the other as Chief Housing Policy Advisor in the Office of Financial Stability.

1. Holiday Charity Scams 

According to a study done by AARP, this is the most common scam that holiday shoppers fall prey to each year. The best way to be on the lookout? Notice what type of payment the website or caller may be asking of you, says Kingsley. If the answer is wire-transfer, gift card or prepaid card, steer clear. And if you get solicited in person or on the phone, make sure to ask where, exactly, your money will be going. If the person is vague, or admits only a small portion goes to the charity in question, just say no. (For what it’s worth, here are some charities we feel good about giving to.)

2. Package Delivery Scams 

These scams take the form of phishing emails where the scammer disguises an email using a UPS, FedEx or USPS lookalike format with a service link to view and claim a “missed delivery.” The fake links are meant to mimic typical sign-in pages of the respective companies and are designed to get you to share personal login information or unknowingly download malware. Your best defense is to ignore any texts, calls or emails asking for personal financial information. “This includes asking you to send money or cryptocurrencies to avoid a service interruption or to receive your delivery,” Kingsley advises.

And remember: USPS offers a free redelivery scheduling service on their site and will never request or require a redelivery fee. UPS and FedEx have information on their website regarding delivery changes and requests as well.

3. Online Shopping Scams 

A brand new MacBook for only $150? If an online offer seems too good to be true, it probably is, and scammers will often use a fake deal to lure in shoppers, extract personal and financial information and then never send the item in question. “Buy directly from a retailer’s official website and avoid websites offering unrealistic discounts on popular merchandise, concert or event tickets,” Kingsley warns. Additionally, be sure to make payments themselves on sites and platforms that you know to be trustworthy and never veer off of those platforms to close a deal with a private seller.

4. Gift Card Scams 

While gift cards sure do make a great stocking stuffer, they’re also a prime target for scammers who, again, will get you to pay for something (in this case the gift card) with no intention of actually sending it to you. Your best defense, says Kingsley, is to purchase them directly from trusted companies or through reputable sellers like grocery stores, CVS or Walgreens. And never never never buy a resold card, even if the deal seems good (scammers often lurk in local swap sites that trade discounted gift cards.) Finally, be on the lookout for text messages and emails from unknown or unsolicited senders who offer to send you gift cards—these are used to track spending activity. 

5. Travel Scams 

Though we absolutely love “experience gifts” like a trip to somewhere warm and tropical, we also need to be prudent about our bookings. Particularly since, thanks to savvy scammers, it’s increasingly easy to create and mimic the style and look of popular sites. They “re-create familiar branding, logos or company verbiage,” Kingsley explains, prompting you to click to buy something—like airline tickets or hotel rooms—that never existed in the first place. Always make sure you’re on a company’s actual website, even if it’s not the top listing that comes up on Google. And if you suspect a scam, take a moment to look up unfamiliar names and companies, searching in tandem with terms like “scam,” “complaints,” and “reviews.” Additionally, when you do make a travel purchase, request a copy of the cancellation and refund policies to ensure you’ve read through any loopholes, know exactly what you’re paying for and what you’ll receive before finalizing payment. If the seller is unable or unwilling to provide you with this information, it’s an immediate sign to walk away from the translation.

What To Do If You Think You’ve Been Scammed

First of all, remember that they can and do happen to anyone. (Hi. Hello! It’s me, the person writing this article who has been scammed multiple times! A $1 redelivery fee for a USPS package requested via phonecall at 6:30 am. I mean, c’mon!) 

Secondly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Contact your bank to verify recent transactions and, if necessary, cancel cards or file claims.“You may consider reporting the incident to the FTC at,” Kingsley recommends, also noting that “Chase Credit Journey offers free credit and identity monitoring; you don’t have to be a Chase customer. You’ll receive an alert if your personal information has been leaked in a data breach or shows up on the dark web.”

In other words, ‘tis the season to be cautious.

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Assistant Editor, Trinket Collector, Artisanal Latte Enthusiast

Delia Curtis (they/them) is a New York City based writer and Assistant Editor at PureWow. They have eight years of print and digital media experience covering lifestyle, fashion...