McAfee Study Unwraps Holiday Shopping Behavior and Shares Tips for a Safer Online Shopping Season

  • 36% of Americans have fallen victim to an online shopping scam during the holiday season, with 1 in 4 losing over a thousand dollars to cybercriminals.
  • McAfee Labs reveals an overall increase in cybercrime activity during the festive season, which typically culminates in a 30% increase in encounters with malicious sites on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and during the first week of January.
  • Most US consumers (88%) are concerned about hackers using artificial intelligence (AI) to create compelling online scams during the holiday season.
  • Men (46%) are more likely than women (26%) to fall for online shopping scams, as are Gen Z (49%) and millennials (65%).

SAN JOSE, Calif.--()--McAfee Corp., a global leader in online protection, today released the results of its inaugural Global Holiday Shopping Scams Study. The study surveyed more than 7,000 adults in seven countries to discover how scam messages and AI-driven scam sophistication are influencing holiday shopping sentiments.

It reveals that 81% of US consumers see an uptick in cybercriminal activity during the holiday season, and 88% of people believe that the use of artificial intelligence (AI) by cybercriminals will have an impact on the amount and types of online scams during the holiday season. Additionally, more than a third (36%) of US consumers have been the victim of an online scam during the holiday season and 75% of those reported losing money as a result. Close to half (49%) of online scam victims lost over $100, while 24% were tricked into handing over $1,000 or more.

The study also reveals a gender and generational divide, with 65% of men placing the same level of trust in shopping online as they do in person, compared to just 46% of women who are more discerning. This trust may be misplaced, with men nearly twice as likely to fall for an online holiday scam (46%) than women (26%). When it comes to generational differences when shopping online, 64% of Gen Z and 77% of millennials also trust shopping online as much as in person; however, these generations are the most susceptible to holiday scams, with 49% and 65% respectively becoming victim during the holidays, compared to just 12% of those over 50.

This festive season, McAfee is warning shoppers to remain vigilant against scams. With advances in artificial intelligence making it easier to create compelling fake emails, malicious sites and text messages at scale, Americans are experiencing an onslaught of scams this festive season. A new phishing site is created every 11 seconds and McAfee detects and protects against more than a million phishing attempts every single day, illustrating the deluge of scam messages consumers are faced with. Americans receive an average of 12 fake messages or scams daily and AI has made it harder than ever to tell real from fake.

"As you gear up for your online holiday shopping, be aware that scammers are too. Cybercriminals are taking advantage of the rush for deals and the holiday hustle and using AI to create fake holiday-related sites, phishing emails, and tricky text messages, hoping you'll take the bait and click on something unsafe,” said Roma Majumder, SVP of Product & Design at McAfee. “With AI now a scammers favorite tool, you need the most advanced AI in your back pocket to safeguard your privacy, identity, and personal information. So, keep your guard up, think before you click when seeking out holiday deals or managing your purchase deliveries, and make sure you've got the latest in AI and online protection to kick cyber grinches to the curb.”

The 2023 McAfee Holiday Shopping Scams Study

McAfee’s research unwrapped three key insights about online holiday shopping scams, and sheds light on the heightened stress people face while shopping for loved ones and working to protect themselves from AI-assisted digital scammers. The survey results are detailed below.

Cyber grinches are decking the virtual halls

People are spending more time than ever shopping online: 76% of Americans plan to shop online this holiday season and 30% plan to do more online shopping than in previous years. Further, more than half (56%) of people plan to start holiday shopping sooner than normal and about half (49%) expect to be shopping online at least once a day during November and December. Cybercrooks have caught on to the fact that we’re shopping more, and are using that knowledge to create fake parcel delivery messages, phishing sites, and other shopping-based scams that lure consumers into clicking on fake links:

  • 4 out of 5 US consumers (81%) believe cybercriminals are more prevalent during the holiday season.
  • More than 1 out of 3 of US consumers (36%) say they have been the victim of an online scam during the holiday season.
  • The most common online scams consumers continue to experience include:
    1. Text messages about purchases you didn’t make (57%)
    2. Fake missed delivery or problem with delivery notifications (56%)
    3. Amazon security alerts and notification messages about your account (43%)

People are shopping around, and shopping around the clock

In light of inflation, 1 out of 3 people (35%) say it’s more likely that, when holiday shopping, they will jump on a good deal when they see it. They also plan to shop around: 85% of the people surveyed say they plan to look for the best deal before buying their holiday gifts. And while it may be unsurprising that many people (63%) plan to do online shopping during Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend, some other consumer shopping habits are more surprising, and point to the possibility of distraction in a world of increasingly sophisticated scams:

  • 41% of people have made an online purchase during the holiday period in bed late at night when they really should be asleep.
  • 27% have made an online purchase while at work.
  • 20% have made an online purchase at the kitchen table during dinner.
  • 11% are making gift purchases while in the bath

Concurrently, more than 1 out of 10 of US consumers (14%) never check if email or text message discount/deals are from an authentic source, and just 32% do so sometimes. Only half of US consumers (54%) claim to always check if email or text message discounts and deals are from an authentic source.

All AI want for Christmas is…no more cybercrooks

Cyber scammers are dampening the holiday spirit for many Americans, 88% of whom think that the use of artificial intelligence by cybercriminals will have an impact on the amount and types of online scams during the holiday season. Further:

  • 57% think that scam emails and messages will be more believable than ever.
  • 31% think that it will be harder to tell what’s a real message versus a fake one, from a retailer or delivery service.
  • 1 in 5 consumers (19%) who think that online scams during the holiday season will increase due to the use of AI by cybercrooks don’t plan to shop online as much as a result.

How to Protect Yourself from Scam Messages

  • Think before you click. Cybercriminals use phishing emails or fake sites to lure people into clicking links that could lead to malware. If you receive an email or text message asking you to click on a link, even if it’s a great-sounding deal or indicates it’ll provide useful information such as a parcel deliver update, it’s best to avoid interacting with the message altogether. Always go direct to the source and interact with reputable companies.
  • Remember that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Many scams are effective because the scammer creates a false sense of urgency or preys on a heightened emotional state. Pause before you rush to interact with any message that is threatening or urgent, especially if it is from an unknown or unlikely sender.
  • Use AI to beat AI. From blocking dangerous links that appear on text messages, social media, or web browsers, customers across all platforms can take advantage of the AI-driven technology behind McAfee Scam Protection to engage with text messages, read emails, and browse the web peacefully and securely.

Survey Methodology

The survey, which focused on the topic of scam messages and holiday shopping, was conducted online between September 7th and September 21st, 2023. 7,130 adults, age 18+, In 7 countries (US, Australia, India, UK, France, Germany, Japan), participated in the study.

About McAfee

McAfee Corp. is a global leader in online protection for consumers. Focused on protecting people, not just devices, McAfee’s consumer solutions adapt to users’ needs in an always online world, empowering them to live securely through integrated, intuitive solutions that protect their families, communities, and businesses with the right security at the right moment. For more information, please visit