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Text and Email Scams to Watch for This Holiday Season


Published November 29, 2023 • 6 Min Read

Text and email scams become particularly common over the holidays as fraudsters look to take advantage of increased activity, stress, distraction and generosity. Whether you’re shopping online, donating to charity, sending out gifts or anxiously waiting for them to arrive, it’s important to be watchful for holiday scams. Here are four common scams and how to protect yourself.

1. Fake charities

‘Tis the season of giving, and many people ramp up their charitable donations at this time of year. Fraudsters know this and set up fake charities to steal money and information. They often latch on to things happening in the news — such as natural disasters or political conflicts — and send messages that tug at the heartstrings.

It’s important to take precautions to ensure you’re giving to a legitimate charity. Here’s what to do if you receive a text or email requesting a donation to a charity:

  • Don’t click any links within the message. Instead, if you’re interested in giving, go directly to a charity’s website.

  • Conduct your own online research. If you haven’t heard of the charity before, type in the charity name and “scam” or “complaints.” This can help you determine if it’s legitimate.

  • Avoid non-traditional payment methods. If a charity asks for payment through gift cards or cryptocurrency, that’s a red flag.

  • Don’t give out more information than is reasonable. A charity does not need to know your Social Insurance or Security Number for tax purposes. If they request this detail, it’s likely a scam.

  • Take note of any high-pressure tactics. Legitimate organizations will not use threatening language in their attempts to encourage a donation.

2. Emails that appear to be from companies you trust

Scammers have become skilled at copying the design and language used by popular brands. A common scam involves receiving an email or text that appears to be from a company such as Amazon, Apple or Walmart. The scammers claim your account has been hacked, you’re owed a refund, or that you’re eligible for a special offer or prize. The message will go on to inform you that by clicking the link and entering your information, you’ll be able to claim your prize or reset your account.

Protect yourself:

  • Never click links to reset your login credentials

  • Never provide sensitive information (such as your credit card information, name, and address) on a website reached by clicking a link

  • Visit the brand’s website directly by typing in the URL you know and trust

3. Missed delivery messages

More than 50 per cent of what Canadians will buy this year will be via online retailers. While in some cases, purchases may be picked up in-store, most items will be shipped to homes across the globe. Scammers capitalize on this increase in shipping activity — and the likelihood that people will have at least one package out for delivery — to commit their delivery scams.

How does a delivery scam work? A scammer, posing as Purolator, UPS, FedEX or other reputable delivery companies, will send you an email or text notifying you that your package has been delayed and that you need to pay a fee before it can be delivered. You would then be taken to a website where you would enter your name, address, and credit card information with the promise that your package would be released and delivered to you soon. Here’s how to help protect yourself from this scam:

  • If you receive a message about a delivery, don’t give out your credit card information. Delivery companies will never ask you for payment this way.

  • Track deliveries through the delivery company’s official website using the tracking number provided. Do not click on any links in text messages or emails.

  • Check for spelling and grammar mistakes in the message you receive. Also, look closely at the sender’s name to try to spot a fake.

4. Fake fraud alerts

One of the best ways to keep track of your money over the holidays is to sign up for alerts from your bank, which will notify you of suspicious activity or recent purchases. Unfortunately, scammers have caught on to this service and are mimicking fraud alerts in hopes of tricking consumers into giving away their bank account or credit card information.

A fake fraud alert scammer will send you a text message claiming to be from your bank. They create a sense of urgency by saying there was suspicious activity on your account or that a large purchase was recently made. Then they say, “If you don’t act quickly, your account will be locked.” To secure your account, you’ll be asked to click on a link. That link will take you to a fake website that looks like a bank login page — when you type in your credentials, scammers can steal them and gain access to your online bank account.

While this scam is tricky, there are ways to spot a fake fraud message and protect your money:

  • Take note of the number or code the message was sent from. Your bank will use the same code or number for their alerts — for instance, RBC uses the SMS short code 722373 to send you fraud alerts to confirm suspicious transactions. If the message is from a different number, ignore it!

  • Look for errors in grammar, punctuation or capitalization. If something looks off, it’s likely a scam.

  • Don’t click a link contained within a fraud message.

  • If the message is coming from a bank you don’t use, that’s a sure sign it’s a fake.

The holidays are a wonderful time of year, but also very busy and sometimes stressful. While you may be distracted or time-crunched over the season, if you receive a text or email that seems at all out of the ordinary, it’s best to take a minute to stop and think about where it came from and what it’s asking of you. By questioning suspicious messages, you can hrlp protect yourself and your money this holiday season.

Stay informed about any new or ongoing scams by checking RBC Current Scam Alerts.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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