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Expect a Spike in Scam Attempts During the Holidays

Criminals ramp up their package-delivery, online-shopping and other schemes this time of year, an AARP survey finds

spinner image Scams spike during the holiday season according to a new AARP survey.
Kerkez / Getty Images

Scams have become a part of our everyday lives, unfortunately: Between the phishing emails and texts from people pretending to be government officials or online retailers needing your personal information and robocalls warning of money owed, it can be exhausting. And these criminals don’t rest during the season of goodwill. In fact, they seem to work even harder to perpetrate fraud, according to a new AARP Fraud Watch Network report. ​ ​

The AARP survey of 1,880 U.S. consumers age 18 and older, detailed in the report, “Holiday Fraud: Fight Back Against Joy-Stealing Criminals,” finds that this year 80 percent of U.S. consumers have experienced or been targeted by at least one form of the frauds that are rampant during the holidays, including requests from (often fake) charitiesonline shopping scams and fraudulent communications about delivery problems. And a higher percentage of older adults (age 65 and up) report having experienced or been targeted by holiday-related scams this year (78 percent) than last year (69 percent).​

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The survey included a fraud knowledge quiz (see questions below), where respondents scored lower than they did last year. Only 28 percent of respondents answered seven or more of the 10 true-or-false questions correctly.​

“We see two important findings in this year’s survey,” says Kathy Stokes, director of fraud prevention programs at AARP. “One is that fraud is on the rise, and the other is that our knowledge of how to stay safe is falling.”​​

Highlights from the survey​:

  • Fifty-three percent of respondents have received a notification from someone saying they are from the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx or UPS about a shipment issue, and it turned out to be fraudulent. That’s up from 29 percent in 2022.​
  • Thirty percent of respondents have had a package stolen from outside their doors.​
  • Thirty-five percent received a donation request in the past year that seemed fraudulent.​
  • Thirty-eight percent have experienced fraud when trying to buy a product through an online ad.​
  • Twelve percent of travelers experienced fraud when booking a trip.​
  • More than 1 in 4 (27 percent) have given or received a gift card with no balance.​
  • Most (89 percent) agree that lawmakers need to do more to protect consumers from fraud and scams.​

Gift cards are a favorite holiday item for giving and receiving, but they are also a favorite among fraud criminals. According to Stokes, “The survey found that 1 in 4 consumers have either given or received a card with no value on it. While some of this could be error, much is likely low-tech in-store manipulation of cards or high-tech tracking of card values online and draining them.” ​​

Test your safe-shopping savvy

Survey participants were asked the following questions. See how you do.

​True or false?

  1. ​Online retailers like Amazon and eBay will request your login information to provide customer support.​
  2. Ordering a free trial offer from an online retailer (with a small shipping charge) is a good way of trying out a product before you buy it.​
  3. Peer-to-peer payment apps like Cash App, Zelle and Venmo have the same consumer protections as your credit card.​
  4. When searching online for customer support, the first customer service phone number that appears on your search results will connect you with a legitimate person from that company.​
  5. Peer-to-peer payment apps like Cash App, Zelle and Venmo are only intended to be used to transfer money with people you personally know, like family, friends, the babysitter or the lawn service.​
  6. It’s safe to pay for a vacation rental found on apps like Airbnb or VRBO outside of the app — for example, sending money with a P2P app instead. ​
  7. Ads for merchandise that you see on social media, such as Facebook or Instagram, or other places online are trustworthy.​
  8. The safest way to make purchases online is with a credit card.​
  9. Regularly updating software on your devices provides protection against fraud.​
  10.  If you are directed to send someone money by converting cash to cryptocurrency at a convenience store kiosk, it is a scam. 

​​Answers, with the percentage of respondents who answered correctly: 1. False (33); 2. False (38); 3. False (39); 4. False (45); 5. True (62); 6. False (51); 7. False (56); 8. True (55); 9. True (62); 10. True (60). Explanations of these answers are available in the report.

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Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.