Published: December 2, 2015
Reading time: 3 minute read
Written by: Forter Team

Almost everyone shops a lot at this time of year, and that’s true for thieves as well as honest buyers. Forter’s analysts took a look at the data and identified the 18 items most popular with fraudsters this holiday. Market Watch called these “the 18 most popular things fraudsters buy with your credit card” and that’s really not a bad way to think about it.

Do Fraudsters Really Target the Holidays?

If you check out the Google Trends for ‘buy credit cards’ you’ll see an interesting pattern.

Of course, the term has grown in popularity over time – the growth of e-commerce has led to a surge in online fraud as well, as criminals flock to the new opportunity. And the huge number of data breaches in 2014 and 2015 has only made it easier than ever for fraudsters to purchase high quality stolen data cheaply and without difficulty – this year alone, 690 data breaches exposed over 175 million records.

But what the graph also shows is the way that searches for “buy credit cards” spike every year in November and December – during the holiday shopping rush. Every year, while legitimate consumers are working through their gift lists, online criminals are working hard to defraud merchants, hiding in and even selling to the flood of good customers.


This is only a small snapshot – one related term, for one type of fraud. But it gives a sense of how busy the holidays are for fraudsters.

Why Do Fraudsters Love the Holidays?

To understand this, it’s important to bear in mind that most (though not all) online criminals are professional. They steal for a living, or to supplement their income. So their actions are determined by what makes the most business sense. Ultimately, it comes down to ROI.

It’s easier to monetize fraudulent purchases during the festive season, because when so many people are buying you’re bound to be able to find someone quickly who wants to buy what you’re reselling. Fraudsters like a fast turnaround, because it translates into a quick profit and it minimizes the chances of things going wrong. In fact, some fraudsters will “sell” the goods first, and then steal to order.

It’s also easier to get away with it in the holidays. The overwhelming majority of merchants rely on manually reviewing transactions for fraud. When there are a lot of orders, that puts tremendous pressure on the manual reviewers, who are always in danger of slipping further and further behind, causing a delay in confirmation and fulfillment.

Stressed out by a growing mountain of transactions that need reviewing, manual reviewers are more likely to make mistakes, making life easier for fraudsters and sending false positives up as well. This problem disappears with a fully automated system like Forter’s, which involves no manual review whatsoever, but very few merchants have entirely automated fraud prevention and fraudsters know it, and know the advantage that that gives them.

What Are Online Criminals Buying This Year?

A whole range! From items any consumer might be happy to receive like Louis Vuitton handbags to Best Buy gift cards that enable complex, layered omnichannel fraud to pizza that simply sates an immediate craving.

Check out this infographic for an overview of the 18 most popular items on the fraudster holiday wish list this year:

Why Those Items?

What lies behind the popularity of these purchases? They provide what fraudsters are looking for, in one way or another:

  • Goods that are easy to resell (so hot right now, or classic choices that are always in demand)
  • Services or items that will help fraudsters to commit further crime (some crimes have many layers)
  • Immediate gratification, paid for with someone else’s money (that’s where the pizza and similar choices come in)

What Do Retailers Need to Know?

This fraudster holiday wish list is great for now. But how about the year to come? What retailers should really take away from this insight into the online underworld is that it’s crucial to understand the reasons and logic behind fraudster trends and preferences.

The things on a fraudster holiday wish list vary over time, changing as consumer preferences do. But if you understand what influences that list, and the reasoning behind fraudster preferences, you’ll be much better able to combat whatever fraudsters throw at you next.

At Forter, we engage in continual research into transaction patterns, consumer data and the world of online fraud, so we’re always on top of what’s new. In a fast-moving world that moves faster every year, and with fraudsters who are always looking for creative new ways to steal, fraud prevention needs to have its finger on the pulse to stay effective. Increasingly, it’s an expert’s game.

3 minute read