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Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published a helpful article[i] that urges people to be aware of the rise in Coronavirus-related scams. Unfortunately during the 2020 holiday season, hackers have found new and creative ways to prey upon people and their goodwill to obtain your personal data or access your funds.  Here are some tips to be mindful of this winter:

Online shopping. Did you know that 71% of people plan to do most or all of their holiday shopping online this year, according to a survey[ii]? With retailers offering more and more bargains and sales, it’s important to be aware of where you are shopping. Fake websites and social media ads that mimic trusted brands are sometimes hard to spot. Be sure to always double check that the web address is correct. If it looks wrong – it’s misspelled, doesn’t use “.com” when you would expect to see it, or isn’t a secure site – that’s a clue you might be on a fake webpage.

Gift cards. According to a November 2020 AARP survey, nearly two-thirds of people will buy gift cards during the holidays[iii]. Money on gift cards is like cash – and nearly impossible to get back once it’s spent. Requests for payment by gift card are highly suspect – whether it’s from a company or for a service or even to help someone in need including charities.

Call spoofing/Telemarketers. During the holiday season, we see a rise in robocalls and telemarketers who call asking for donations for local law enforcement or fire departments, or for local animal shelters or other organizations. Especially in 2020 when many of us want to do what we can to help, it can be easy for scammers to take advantage of you. The phone numbers may even appear to be legitimate, as it is relatively easy these days to spoof a real number.  Always verify the name of the caller and the organization they are calling from and never give credit card information to anyone who calls you. I sometimes tell the caller that I’ll call the organization back using the main 800 number on their website to make my donation if I’m feeling suspicious about the call.

Delivery and postal scams. As more and more holiday packages are being sent across the country, be aware of emails, letters and text notifications that may be phishing attempts disguised as communications from the postal service, FedEx or other delivery companies. For example, links in emails may lead to fake sign-in pages that require you to input personal information or click a link that installs malware on your computer or devices.

Travel Scams. Though many of us are limiting our travel this season, some still plan to board a flight, in part due to some “too good to be true” airfare prices. Some of these may be spoof sites that offer cheap prices but offer nothing in return. When in doubt, go directly to a website or to a travel agent to verify pricing for airfare, hotels, rental cars and other travel-related offerings.

Fake Charity Scams. Nearly 30% of charitable donations are given in December[iv]. Scammers know they can take advantage of goodwill during this time using phony websites and robocalls that target you based on your interests. As a rule of thumb, never donate in cash or by gift card. If you are wiring money let Private Ocean or your bank assist you.

Health-Related Scams. With news that COVID-19 is rising in some areas over the winter, we may see more scams regarding vaccinations, at-home testing kits and communications claiming to be from the CDC or WHO. Use reputable sites like and to find the latest information.

Protect Yourself

  • Check the “From” line within emails for legitimate addresses.
  • Screen your calls when possible.
  • Pay by credit card and avoid paying anything with cash, gift cards, or wire transfers.
  • Buy gift cards directly from a retailer, or if in a store – examine if there is any sign of tampering.
  • If there are spelling errors or poor grammar on a shopping website, in unsolicited emails or in texts, you are likely dealing with a scammer.
  • Do research on unfamiliar companies before making purchases. An easy Google search can usually uncover if the site is a scam.
  • When shopping on new websites, look for a privacy policy and the company’s return and refund policies.
  • Any unsolicited sales, order or delivery confirmation email that requires you to click on a link or open an attachment is a red flag – do not click on these links until you have verified the company is legitimate!
  • And always remember to fiercely guard your Social Security Number and passwords. There are very few legitimate reasons a company will need this information from you.