This holiday, you could be inviting a fraudster to your home

Emma McGowan 30 Oct 2023

Ever wonder if a loved one you’re sitting next to this year could be a cybercriminal? They’re probably not. But you can still familiarize yourself with the types of fraud that take place within the family, just in case.

As the holiday festivities draw closer, we start to make plans to see the family. Whether you’re a host or a guest, millions will soon gather to catch up, tell stories, watch football, and break bread. Some of us can’t wait, while others are dreading all of the soon-to-be awkward conversations. In some instances, the only thing that could make a family dinner even more messy (besides a food fight) would be knowing someone eating next to you is a scammer, identity thief, or cyber crook.  

While you may never suspect your kin of deceit, cybercrime occurs within family circles more often than you might think. It’s a harsh reality for some. So, before you pop that green bean casserole in the oven, familiarize yourself with the different types of digital trickery unique to family-oriented scams, and what steps you may take to better spot and avoid it.

Stealing the mashed potatoes and your ID  

In most cases, family members are the ones you can trust with anything. But just because you feel like you can tell them anything doesn’t mean you should. With enough of your personal information, like your social security number, they may be able to steal your identity. However, fraud in the family can go beyond just you and a distant cousin.

  • Kids have a blank credit history, which makes it easier to open new accounts, run up the bills, and subsequently tank their credit–a scam that may not be discovered for years to come. If their personal information is common knowledge among the family, the child could end up losing out on financial options in the future like obtaining credit cards and opening checking accounts. They’ll also face the burden of fixing their financial records and reclaiming their identities.  
  • Parents and grandparents often have built up good credit over time and a decent amount of money stashed away in their accounts. If someone in the family is desperate or has ill intentions, those savings could look ripe for the taking. This could ruin retirement plans, wreck years of hard work, and destroy relationships. 
  • Siblings know us best and thus have easier access to our personal info and important documents like IDs and passports. If they got their hands on the necessary records, they could easily steal your identity and even pose as you in person. 

What to do 

If you’re concerned about a relative, or anyone for that matter, misusing your personal information, there are steps you may take. For starters, keep records regarding your credit and finances secure. You should store your most precious documents in a secret location, or destroy them if they’re no longer needed. This way, no one will spot any info when they come over to chow down on some stuffing. You can also place a fraud alert on your credit report by contacting any of the three main credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) or freeze your report to prevent anyone from opening new accounts in your name. 

Is it your grandchild... or AI? 

Grandma just got back from the grocery store with all the ingredients to make her world-famous pecan pie for the family get-together. Her phone rings. It’s an unknown number, but she hears the voice of your child on the other end of the line. The voice is panicked because something terrible has happened, and they need Grandma’s money to get out of the predicament. The issue is—your child is currently safe and sound doing their homework in the living room! 

This is the work of an AI scamming technique known as voice cloning. While this isn’t something an actual family member does, it’s something to be aware of to make sure a loved one never falls victim. A scammer could use artificial intelligence to clone the voice of someone close to you by using a short audio clip of their voice. In the age of social media, they could easily pull this from content posted online. They slap this into a voice-cloning program, and boom. 

What to do 

You may be too tech-savvy to ever fall for something like this. But are your parents or elders more vulnerable? Take the time to chat with them this holiday about the dangers of both digital and phone scams. If they ever receive a suspicious call that sounds like it’s from someone they know, don't immediately trust it. Hang up and call the person who supposedly contacted you to verify the story. If you can’t reach them, try to get in touch through another family member or their friends. During these calls, scammers often ask for payment via wire money, cryptocurrency, or gift cards. These methods make it incredibly difficult to get your money back and are a huge red flag.  

Uninvited to your inbox 

Your loved one may not know they’re scamming you. In fact, YOU may unintentionally be scamming THEM. We’re talking about hacked email accounts. There are many cases in which email addresses and passwords are leaked via a data breach. And if this info ends up in the hands of a cybercriminal, they could easily send scam emails to everyone in your contact list. Try explaining to Aunt Meredith why you emailed her a promo to a free weight loss program or telling Grandpa that it wasn't you asking for $5,000 worth of gift cards for the holidays.   

What to do

  • If your account has been hacked, the first step is to take back control! If the hacker has locked you out, you may have to contact your email service provider for help. If you still have access, you may create a new username and strong password, change your security questions, and turn on multi-factor authentication as an extra security measure. 
  • If you receive a suspected scam from a family member, you should keep an eye out for warning signs such as offers that seem too good to be true, requests for personal info or money, overly generic greetings, and sketchy links. You should also contact the loved one who supposedly sent the email to get confirmation and warn them about their hacked account if they were unaware of the email.    

The season of giving to scammers?  

This could go a couple of ways. Either your family member has fallen victim to another cybercriminal, and they’re unknowingly leading you to the same fate, or they’re trying to pull a fast one on you with a trick of their own. But they’re not the only ones, you should also be on the lookout for fake charity scams. Many cybercriminals will take advantage of your kindness during the holidays by creating made-up stories for a fake charity to catch your attention and pull on your heartstrings in hopes of donations. If they’re convincing enough, they will fool many good-natured individuals. So, if you spot a new nonprofit online, or if a loved one tells you about a charity they have recently given to, take the time to ensure that it’s legitimate.  

What to do 

Before you give money to ANY charity, do some research to verify the organization. Even if it’s supposedly operated by a loved one. You may always check the lists run by the Better Business Bureau or your state's charity regulator. You should also be on the lookout for some of the common indicators of a scam, such as pressuring you to pay immediately or so-called representatives asking for payment via gift card or wire transfer. Finally, whatever you do, never provide anyone with your financial information. Even if they claim to represent a good cause, legit charities won't ask for your banking info or credit card numbers by phone or through email.

As we prepare for the holiday season and the family gatherings that come with it, it's important to show kindness and love while also remaining vigilant against the potential threat of scams and fraud. Ensure that you may dine with confidence by learning to recognize warning signs, promote open conversations about online security with your loved ones, and use the power of Avast One to stay safe in this digital age. Because the only scam in your house should be Uncle Dave’s “homemade” snickerdoodles that taste suspiciously like the ones from the café downtown. Happy holidays, everyone.  

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