Holidays, Stress and Scams—the Connection You Need to Know!

Holiday stress scams

The holidays are an especially stressful time for many. You might feel nervous about affording gifts, seeing difficult family members, or traveling– especially after several months of isolation. Unfortunately, it is also a popular time for scammers to be active.

Older people are very susceptible to financial scams, whether via phone, email, or in person. A new AARP report, “A Moment’s Notice: Recognizing the Stressful Life Events, Emotions, and Actions That Make Us Susceptible to Scams,” has found that there is a direct relationship between stress and an elderly person’s risk of falling for a scam.

However, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself from scams and increase your confidence. This article will teach you everything you need to know about holiday scams and help you reduce stress 

Why Scammers Are More Active During the Holidays

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Scammers think so, too. The holidays are a convenient time for scammers to commit fraud. Here’s why:

  • People are shopping online for holiday gifts
  • Family and friends reach out with more frequency this time of year
  • Scammers can manipulate someone’s philanthropic intentions to get money from them

As soon as Black Friday hits, you are more likely to make big purchases for the upcoming holiday season[1]. There is also a huge focus on giving at this time of year. People are more likely to loosen their purse strings now than, say, the middle of August. 

Since the coronavirus pandemic has made it unsafe to gather in large groups, you might be conducting this year’s holiday festivities online. Though this is a safe course-of-action given the circumstances, it also gives scammers the opportunity to pose as family members. 

Why Older People Are More Likely to Fall for A Scam

Scammers are interested in targeting seniors because, according to another AARP report, people over 50 possess 83% of America’s wealth. This wealth concentration makes seniors an appealing demographic for prospective fraud. 

Scammers like to target seniors, but not just seniors who need extra support. You are susceptible to fraud even if you still maintain full independence. However, seniors who suffer from cognitive decline or other neurodegenerative illnesses are often at an increased risk of fraud.

Social isolation also contributes to a senior’s unawareness of popular scams and lies. A social support system is crucial for seniors’ overall wellbeing, but especially important for fraud protection.

Seniors’ vulnerability puts them at risk during the fraud-heavy holiday season. Couple that with the fact that stress increases your chances of being scammed, and you’ll realize just how much fraud prevention matters this time of year.

How Stress Increases Your Chances of Being Scammed

To lower your inhibitions, scammers will zero in on a current stressor: divorce, loss, isolation, or financial strife, among others. Although the holidays inspire cheerful feelings, this time of year can also be particularly stressful. Family dynamics, travel, and finances can induce anxious feelings. As you begin to experience feelings of stress or anxiety, you are more likely to make decisions without thinking logically. Your stress level works in a scammer’s favor. 

Stress impacts your decision-making in the moment, but it could also influence how you respond to the scam after-the-fact. If seniors are embarrassed about falling for a scam, they might be less likely to report it and provide critical information for stopping the scammer. In fact, one study estimates that seniors report only one in 44 cases of fraud overall[2].  

Common Scams for Winter 2021-2022

This holiday season in particular poses a great threat for potential scamming. The coronavirus pandemic has forced many people who would usually shop in-person to shop online. Some families still do not feel comfortable gathering, so they will ship their gifts instead of giving them directly to other family members. 

Supply chain issues and chip shortages are making this time of year even more stressful[3]. That perfect gift for your son is not only harder to buy, but harder to get to him.

These issues create a scammer’s perfect “in.” As more people shop online for safety reasons, and the online shopping experience becomes more stressful, scammers have an easier time pilfering personal information and committing fraud.

Let’s check out some of the most common scams you might encounter during winter 2021-2022:

  • Phishing emails and advertisements for hot-ticket items, like an Xbox, can lead older people to fraudulent websites.
  • Shipping notifications that mirror those of UPS or FedEx link to dangerous attachments.
  • Text (SMS) messages with specific holiday themes arouse less suspicion than phishing emails but serve the same scamming end.
  • Gift card fraud prompts you to pay with a prepaid card.
  • Scammers posing as loved ones and requesting cash transfers, prepaid gift cards, or other gifts.

Keep an eye out for suspicious activity. The scams listed here are just a handful of potential situations you could encounter while shipping gifts or contacting loved ones this time of year.

Best Ways to Avoid Scams

The FBI warns: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. A little extra research will go a long way this holiday season. These cybersecurity tips could help you avoid a scam:

  • Use protective software 
  • Register for the National Do Not Call Registry
  • Set up unique passwords for online accounts
  • Credit freeze on credit accounts
  • Identity-theft monitoring
  • Shop with well-known retailers
  • Limit spending to one credit card and email address
  • Reduce stress

Though the last tip might seem out-of-place with the rest of the technological measures, reducing stress can be one of the most important steps you take to prevent fraud. Check out some strategies for stress relief below. 

Relieve Stress with These Helpful Tips

Reducing stress helps protect you from scammers, but that’s not the only benefit. These strategies just might improve your overall wellbeing and help you better connect with your friends and family.

  • Decrease caffeine intake. Caffeine increases levels of cortisol and epinephrine, both of which impact stress levels[4]
  • Exercise. A regular exercise routine, even a low-impact one, can help reduce stress and promote the production of endorphins.
  • Use candles or essential oils for aromatherapy. Sense of smell is an important tool for stress reduction[5]. A lavender candle relaxes the body and mind.
  • Socialize. Social support systems are important for fraud prevention, but they also provide vital connections for stress relief
  • Eat a balanced diet. Learn to eat specific foods that will lower your cortisol levels and reduce stress. These stress-reducing foods include foods high in omega-3 fatty acid, vitamin B, magnesium, and protein. 
  • Take a walk or get outside. Daily 30-minute walks have tons of physical benefits, but they also boost your mental health. Try using taking walks with friends for added benefits. 
  • Listen to calming music. You can use music to motivate, concentrate, sleep, and (most importantly for fraud prevention) relax. Listen to the sounds of rain or classical music for stress reduction.
  • Get involved with your community. Giving back time and energy to your community can have amazing effects on your mental health[6]

Elderly people suffer from disproportionate levels of anxiety and depression, often due to a lack of independence and connection. When you prioritize your health, you regain some agency and independence. Creating a robust social calendar will help alleviate feelings of loneliness. The coronavirus pandemic forced people to isolate and made seniors lonelier than ever. Take back some control over your wellbeing by making decisions that help you promote connection and reduce stress.

A Medical Alert System Can Reduce Stress 

Stress makes you more susceptible to scams, especially during the busy holiday season. When you take steps to reduce stress, you make it harder for scammers to target you. Stress can come from a myriad of sources. Some seniors are especially nervous about falling, especially if they have fallen before, and especially if they live alone. Wearing a medical alert system can help you feel safer and more confident in your home. If you fall or experience any type of emergency (medical, theft, fire), you’ll connect with a 24/7 Command Center and speak to a certified, highly trained agent at the press of a button. The responder will stay on the line with you until emergency services arrive.

Medical alert systems are helpful when you’re at home or out and about. Use an On-the-Go medical alert system when holiday shopping or traveling, or an In-Home medical alert system when you’re opening presents with your grandchildren. Gift an On-the-Go Wrist Watch Medical Alert + GPS + Pedometer to your favorite walking buddy. 

Many seniors are working with a limited budget. 24/7/365 protection is available for less than $20 a month. You will not pay extra fees for “false alarms” or multiple button pushes. Flexible monthly plans make it easy for you to choose the best plan for your price point without committing to a long-term contract. This holiday season, give yourself or someone you love the gift of peace of mind and independence with a medical alert system.


[1] Corkery, Michael. 2021, Nov. 26. Americans like to spend, and spend, every holiday season. The New York Times. Americans like to spend, and spend, every holiday season.

[2] Huang, Yufan, Lawitz, Alan. 2016, Jun. 15. The New York State Cost of Financial Exploitation Study. The New York State Office of Children and Family Services. The New York State Cost of Financial Exploitation Study.

[3] Ellyatt, Holly. 2021, Oct. 18. Supply chain chaos is already hitting global growth. And it’s about to get worse. Supply chain chaos is already hitting global growth. And it’s about to get worse.

[4] Patel, R. Syan S. 2017, Apr. 19. Study: Caffeine, Stress, and Brain function. The Ohio State University Emotional Fitness. Study: Caffeine, Stress, and Brain function.

[5] Chalkia, Chryssa. 2018, Aug. 27. Scented candles to reduce anxiety. Counselling Directory. Scented candles to reduce anxiety.

[6] Watson, Stephanie. 2013, Jun. 26. Volunteering may be good for body and mind. Harvard Health Publishing at Harvard Medical School. Volunteering may be good for body and mind.