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Holiday Scams: How to Keep Kids Safe From Scammers During the Holiday Season

In conversation with the Head of Global Fraud Prevention at Citi, we've compiled our best tips on how to keep safe from holiday scams.
Holiday Scams: How to Keep Kids Safe From Scammers During the Holiday Season
Updated: December 18, 2023
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The festive season brings holiday cheer, family fun, and loads of gifts, but it’s also a prime season for scammers and cybercriminals. This article provides information on why you should keep an extra close eye on your family members this holiday season and examples of how scams work.

Speaking with Michael Steinbach, Head of Global Fraud Prevention at Citi, we’ve compiled our best tips on how to protect yourself and your kids online from scammers.

Current Trends of Financial Scams During the Holidays

In December 2023, the FBI released national and regional crime data to warn the public about holiday scam trends. The FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received reports from almost 12,000 victims resulting in losses of over $73 million during last year’s holiday shopping season. The news release described the two most common holiday scams:

  • Non-delivery scam: a buyer pays for goods or services they find online, but those items are never received.
  • Non-payment scam: goods or services are shipped, but the seller is never paid.

Citi launched a survey that explores American consumers’ sentiment and experience with financial scams. The survey found that nearly two-thirds of Americans (63%) are worried about their kids or dependents falling victim to a scam — and for good reason.

The survey found that almost one-third of Gen Z Americans (32%) report having been a victim of a financial scam. This is more than any other generation.

According to the FBI, losses are generally lower when younger people fall victim to scams; however, the total amount lost by victims under 20 years old more than doubled to $210.5 million from 2021 to 2022.

Young boy sits on his laptop in the kitchen. Gen Z falling victim to online holiday scam.
Image source: Getty Images

Why are Families Particularly Vulnerable to Scams During the Holidays?

Scammers are more likely to try to take advantage of and gain access to our information during the holidays because we spend ample time shopping online for gifts.

“Scams are prevalent year-round. Still, families are most likely to fall victim when they’re busy, distracted or stressed. Those words describe the holiday season for many of us,” explains Steinbach.

In addition, scammers are opportunistic. Families are busy during the holidays. We expect more package deliveries and online spending; therefore, we may be more likely to fall for a shopping scam such as one that falsely promises an unbeatable discount on an item we’ve been wanting for months. Or, perhaps the charitable giving holiday spirit will impel a teen to give money more willingly to a fake charity without doing proper due diligence.

Scams can have serious consequences. The Citi survey found that 38% of Americans who were financially scammed experienced a setback in their savings goals as a result and 29% went into debt. Being a victim of a scam doesn’t just hurt us financially; the traumatic experience can be mentally and emotionally devastating.

Related: The Ultimate 2023 Holiday Gift Guide by Age

Examples of Holiday Scams and How They Work

Michael shares that scammers are more sophisticated and convincing than ever. They don’t mind if you’re young or old — they’re after your finances, and they’ll use whatever tactics are necessary. Scams that target children and teens are similar to those that target adults and older Americans.

He advises people to focus less on specific scams and instead guard against common signs of scammer behavior. This includes an unwarranted sense of urgency or any request by strangers for private information.

According to the FBI, there has been a particular increase in cryptocurrency investment scams and puppy scams.

Cryptocurrency Investment Scams

In an investment scam, the scammer promises high returns on investments but intends to defraud investors.

A cryptocurrency investment scam typically involves fraudsters enticing individuals to invest in a cryptocurrency or a blockchain-related project with the promise of high returns. Scammers make exaggerated claims and false promises about the potential profits from the cryptocurrency investment, often guaranteeing unrealistically high returns.

Victims may receive unsolicited emails, text messages, messages on social media, or phone calls promoting the investment opportunity. These messages often use persuasive tactics to create a sense of urgency. Scammers might create fake websites to show returns on investments. They may use the names and logos of well-known cryptocurrencies to appear legitimate.

Victims are pressured to invest quickly before the supposed opportunity disappears. Scammers use tactics like limited-time offers or false claims of high demand to create urgency.

Once individuals show interest, scammers request payment in cryptocurrency. They may ask for payment in Bitcoin or other hard-to-trace cryptocurrencies to make it difficult for victims to recover their funds. After receiving funds, the scammers disappear, and victims are left with no way to contact them. The promised returns never materialize.

To avoid falling victim to cryptocurrency investment scams, it’s crucial to conduct thorough research, verify the legitimacy of investment opportunities, and be skeptical of unsolicited communications making lofty promises. Additionally, using reputable cryptocurrency exchanges and being cautious about sharing financial information can help protect against scams.

Puppy Scams

Group of husky puppies. Puppy scams during the holiday season.
Image source: Getty Images

The FBI shared that they received about 3,500 complaints related to puppy scams from January 1, 2023, through October 15, 2023. This corresponds to about $6.6 million in losses to the public.

A puppy scam involves practices involving the sale of non-existent puppies or pets to unsuspecting buyers. A scammer will create bogus listings on online platforms, classified websites, or social media advertising adorable puppies for sale. These listings may include attractive photos and descriptions of the puppies.

Scammers might set up professional-looking websites that appear legitimate, complete with images of the puppies, detailed information, and fake customer testimonials. Interested buyers contact the scammer through email, phone, or messaging platforms to inquire about the puppy. Scammers may use fake identities and provide false information to appear trustworthy.

Once the buyer expresses interest, the scammer requests payment for the puppy and may include additional fees for shipping, veterinarian fees, vaccination, or insurance. Payment is often requested through wire transfers, money orders, or other non-traceable methods.

After receiving payment, the scammer may provide a fake tracking number or claim that additional fees are required. In reality, there is no puppy, and the scammer disappears with the victim’s money.

To avoid falling victim to a puppy scam, it’s important to thoroughly research the seller, including checking for reviews or reports of scams related to their contact information. Whenever possible, arrange to meet the seller in person and see the puppy before making any payments.

If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Scammers often use low prices to lure victims. Use reputable websites and platforms when looking for pets. Avoid dealing with individuals who insist on off-platform transactions.

By staying vigilant and conducting due diligence, potential pet buyers can reduce the risk of falling victim to puppy scams and ensure a safe and ethical process when acquiring a new pet.

Other Common Scams

  • Online Shopping Scams: The scammer uses deceptive practices such as phishing e-mails or advertisements on online marketplaces to sell and promote a deal on fake or non-existent products.
  • Fake Contests: Scams where individuals are tricked into participating in non-existent contests, often to extract personal information or money.
  • Social Media Scams: Deceptive activities on social media platforms, including identity theft, phishing, and spreading fake news or scams.
  • Gift Card Scams: Fraudulent schemes where scammers convince victims to send money to purchase gift cards, often impersonating a trusted individual or authority.
  • Charity Scams: Deceptive practices where fraudsters pose as charitable organizations to solicit donations for bogus causes.
  • Smartphone App Scams: Phony mobile applications that may compromise users’ personal information or engage in fraudulent activities.

Tips for Parents on How to Protect Their Kids from Scammers

Sad father sits in front at his laptop in front of the Christmas tree. Sad image of holiday scam victim.
Image source: Getty Images

During this time of year, scammers are very active. We asked Michael for his go-to scam protection tips for families.

Use Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

Add facial or fingerprint recognition, multi-factor authentication (MFA) prompts to trusted devices, and robust account alerts to provide an extra layer of account security.

MFA is a security process that requires users to provide multiple forms of identification before gaining access to a system, account, or application. The goal of multi-factor authentication is to add an extra layer of security beyond the traditional username and password combination, making it more difficult for unauthorized users to access sensitive information.

The idea is that even if one factor is compromised (e.g., a password is stolen), the additional factors provide an added layer of protection. For example, even if a hacker knows your password, they would still need physical possession of your smartphone (possession factor) or your fingerprint (biometric factor) to gain access.

Implementing multi-factor authentication is a proactive step you can take to significantly strengthen cybersecurity defenses and protect your family against scammers.

Protect Passwords

Create strong, long, and unique passwords or passphrases for each website or platform you use and consider asking your kids to share important passwords with you.

Install a parental oversight app that allows you to access your kid’s accounts in emergencies. These apps are easy to install, and they can help provide you with peace of mind as your kids browse, game, and chat. When you add these apps to your kids’ devices, remind them that you’re doing it to protect them. Use this opportunity to teach your kids about how to stay safe online.

Keep Private Information Safe

Keep crucial numbers such as PINs, bank account numbers, Social Security Numbers, credit card numbers or driver’s license numbers very private. Remember to apply these safeguards to your child’s personal information.

A child’s social security number is extremely valuable to fraudsters for a variety of purposes, including income tax refund scams and applying for credit. Identity fraud against a child could go undetected for years. Before they even have an opportunity to enter the world, their credit could be ruined — and getting it restored can be a major hassle.

Trust Your Gut

If something seems off, listen to your instincts. Don’t allow yourself to be tricked into giving away your information because someone is creating a false sense of urgency or offering an opportunity that seems too good to be true.

Therefore, holiday scams are on the rise and families are particularly vulnerable to them. However, the good news is that they are preventable. Stay proactive, remain alert, listen to your instincts, and turn to trustworthy sources of fraud and scam information can help protect you and your families from becoming victims of a scam.

If you suspect fraudulent activity in your bank account, contact your financial institution immediately and report the transaction.

If you believe you have been the victim of a scam, please report it to the FBI at or contact your local law enforcement.

Get into the holiday spirit this year with 36 Family Movies You Can Watch Right Now!

Sources +

Citigroup Inc. (2023, November 30). Citi Survey Finds Overconfidence May Leave Americans Exposed to Financial Scams.

Commonwealth Fraud Prevention Centre. (2020, July 20). The total impacts of fraud. Commonwealth Fraud Prevention Centre.

FBI. (2023, December 13). FBI Warns the Public of Holiday Scam Trends. San Francisco Media Office; FBI San Francisco.

Ianzito, C. (2023, December 6). Expect a Spike in Scam Attempts During the Holidays. AARP; AARP.

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