Watch CBS News

U.S. Attorney's Office warns thieves and scammers could turn Christmas into a 'living nightmare': How to fight back

Getty Images

The holiday season is filled with goodwill and kindness, but this is also the time when scammers and thieves get busy trying to ruin Christmas. The U.S. Attorney's Office is warning that common holiday scams could turn Christmas into "a living nightmare" this year.

Porch pirates are thieves who see packages delivered to your doorstep from top retailers like Amazon and Walmart as bounty. Once delivered, porch pirates swoop in and loot your porch, taking your Christmas gifts with them. But thieves aren't just trying to steal packages this Christmas. If you've received a suspicious random "invoice" for a holiday purchase you didn't make, you're not alone. The FBI reports an increase in fake non-payment invoices.

To help keep you and your family safe this Christmas season, CBS Essentials has rounded up expert tips for avoiding holiday scams, plus some of the best options for monitoring your home and porch.

How to stop porch pirates this Christmas

With the ease of online Christmas shopping comes opportunities for porch pirates to steal packages right from your front steps. Here are some ideas for how to stop packages from being stolen (literally) from your front door, including recommendations for some helpful home security devices.

Monitor your porch with a video doorbell


The best way to prevent porch pirates is to have packages delivered only with a signature release. But let's face it, you can't always expect to be home the moment a delivery is made. The next best thing is installing a doorbell-camera system, which allows you to have eyes on your home (including your porch) when you're not there. It also gives you the ability to use the camera system to speak to any unwanted guest (read: thief) attempting to steal your Christmas' thunder by stealing your packages.

We like the Google Nest video doorbell system because it offers wired and wireless options and employs software that can differentiate between humans, animals, a package or even wind, ensuring the least amount of false alerts possible. The Nest video doorbell system offers familiar face recognition as well. 

We also like its easy integration into Google Home ecosystem, if you've already started building your smart home around it. Using the Google Home App, you'll be able to talk to, and listen to, visitors while you're not at home and view three hours of stored video history. The system features night vision and an hour of stored footage should your Wi-Fi or power go out. You can upgrade your system for more stored video footage.

The Nest camera's 24-hour mobile stream helps you watch over your packages and porch while you're at work. You can even communicate with a delivery driver while you're away.

The Google Nest video doorbell is on sale now at Amazon. The wireless option is now $120, reduced from $180.

The wired option is now $140, reduced from $180.

Budget video doorbell option: Ring Video Doorbell (save 45%)

Ring video doorbell

Once the Ring Video Doorbell is connected to your home's internet via Wi-Fi, you're able to remotely monitor visitors to your front door using your smartphone from anywhere in the world, or via a smart home hub that's set up within your home.

The Ring's built in motion sensor will immediately alert you when it detects movement, even if your visitor does not actually ring your doorbell. You're then able to see, hear and communicate in real-time with the visitor. This version of the Ring Video Doorbell offers a 1080p HD camera. It runs using a rechargeable battery and can easily be installed within 30 minutes.

If you subscribe to Ring's service, you also get access to cloud-based storage of the video content captured by this video doorbell, plus access to a variety of additional features. It's now priced at just $55 at Amazon, reduced from $100.

How to avoid getting scammed this holiday season

Porch pirates aren't the only ones trying to ruin the holiday season this year. Scammers are experts at using technology against the vulnerable, creating look-a-like online stores, stealing gift card data before it's been gifted and even sending false invoices stating merchandise hasn't been paid for.

Fake online stores. Also known as "lookalike stores," scammers create online stores that look just like the real thing down to the brand's logo, font and imagery. Lookalike stores often target shoppers on social media, leading them to a website via a link on a social media post. The goal for the scammers is to get you to put in your credit card information on the fake online store. How can you avoid shopping at a fake online store? If a social media ad or brand website offers prices too-good-to-be-true on luxury goods like handbags and sneakers, it's likely a fake online storefront. Before putting your personal information into the website, do an online search for the item you'd like to buy. If the price is real, other retailers are likely matching the price (or close). If the sale price offered is drastically lower than every other retailer, you're likely being scammed. Close the website and keep your credit card information to yourself.

Missed delivery notifications. Scammers will sometimes try to confuse innocent people by sending a text or email stating you missed a package delivery. The notification will include a link that takes you to a website, which will ask for personal information. A reputable retailer like Amazon or Walmart, or shipper like DHL, FedEx or UPS, won't ask you for personal information. Before clicking on any link, check the domain address to make sure it matches that of the company the text says it's coming from. Or, sign into your account to see if you are in fact awaiting a package and if the shipper tried to contact you. If you're not expecting a package, the text or email doesn't seem real or asks for personal information, delete immediately an don't click on the link. 

Fake charities: If a charity reaches out to you via email or text asking for a donation, research the charity before clicking on any links. Check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure you've been contacted by a reputable charity. For a GoFundMe ask, thoroughly research the organizer before sending your hard-earned money to someone trying to take advantage of your kindness.

Phishing emails and texts:  A cyber phishing scammer will send an email or text offering a fast giveaway (that isn't real), or may pretend to be from your bank, mortgage company, the IRS or an online retailer. The phishing email will ask you to click on a link and give personal information like bank account numbers, social security information, or your birthdate. If you receive a banking information request, contact your bank first by phone using a trusted phone number and ensure they've reached out to you.

Gift card fraud: Gift scams are prevalent because gift card use isn't traceable and a gift card's value is equivalent to cash. Current scams include thieves trying to sell fake gift cards or trying to get consumers to pay for (false) goods with gift cards. Another scam involves scammers stealing the numbers and PINs of gift cards before you buy them, waiting to use the cards once money has been added to them. Once a scammer has a gift card number, they can deplete its value and you'll have no recourse. Avoid buying gift cards from retailers you don't recognize and be wary of gift cards sold at deep discounts. Chances are, those gift cards are discounted because they aren't real. To avoid gift card scams, buy yours from retailers like Amazon.

Avoid porch pirates with free in-store pickup

If you're looking for a 100% guarantee your packages won't get stolen from your porch, you can take advantage of retailers' free in-store pickup options. Many retailers, including Walmart, Best Buy and more offer this option for free when purchasing from their website.

For example, we like Walmart's free store pick-up option. Simply place an order online and select a pickup time slot before confirming your order. A Walmart associate will gather your order and have it ready (groceries, too) at the pre-selected time. You can also schedule same-day, at-home delivery from your local store with a Walmart+ membership at a time you know you will be home.

You can even order a last-minute personalized gift at Walmart. Order a print of your favorite photo from your local Walmart Photo Center, and add on the appropriate-sized frame. You can get custom prints in as little as one hour.

When you arrive at the store, park in one of the designated pickup parking spots, sign into the Walmart app, select "I've parked" on the menu and indicate the numbered parking spot you're in. An associate will bring your order out to you.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.