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Beware the Grinch: American Consumers at Risk of Being Scammed During the Holidays

Between September 29 and October 14, 2015, AARP engaged Alan Newman Research to conduct a research study among the general population ages 18 and older in the United States and in seven select states: Alabama, Arkansas, Maine, Michigan, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington. The national and each state survey are identical and explored holiday fraud and scams in the upcoming holiday season.  Topics included methods of paying for, purchasing, and mailing gifts and gift cards; online access and activity; charitable solicitations and donations; and knowledge related to holiday fraud and scams. This survey was completed by 800 U.S. adults ages 18 and older.

Learn:  More from AARP Research

Data from this survey shows that most (70%) U.S. holiday shoppers failed a short quiz on how to stay safe from holiday scams, by answering four or fewer of seven questions correctly.  In addition, many report engaging in behaviors that put them at risk of falling for various holiday scams such as donating to suspect charities without confirming important details, purchasing gift cards from potentially risky locations, using debit cards that offer less consumer protections, using unsecured public Wi-Fi, or shipping and receiving packages without signatures. And two-thirds (66%) of consumers indicate they have had at least one stressful life event occur in the past six months, which makes it more difficult to spot and resist holiday scams.

Key findings include the following:

  • More than two-thirds (70%) of American holiday shoppers who donated to a charity or fundraiser in the past 12 months did so without asking what percentage of their donation went to the fundraiser versus to the charity itself.

  • Over half (52%) indicate they do not know that professional fundraisers are allowed to keep most of the money they raise for charity as long as they don’t lie about how much they keep.

  • Almost half of all U.S. holiday shoppers (45%) do not realize that cards purchased from a gift card rack at a grocery store are NOT as safe from hackers or thieves as gift cards purchased from an online retailer.

  • Over half (55%) of holiday shoppers incorrectly answer or say they don’t know that package delivery companies are NOT responsible for losses resulting from packages left at your door that get stolen.

For more information contact Jennifer Sauer at


Suggested Citation:

Pak, Karla, Doug Shadel and Jennifer Sauer. Beware the Grinch: American Consumers at Risk of Being Scammed During The Holidays. Washington, DC: AARP Research, November 2015.

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