With pandemic scares still buzzing around and so many of us pressed for time, more Americans than ever will be doing most or all of their holiday shopping online this year. And with nearly a third of all retail sales happening between now and Christmas, scammers are already stepping up their game. Last year, they took $250 million from US consumers. You may have noticed an increase in marketing calls and illegal robocalls, extra spam in your inbox, an avalanche of junk mail. But they’re just the tip of an iceberg. Fraudsters will be operating new scams as well as the familiar tried and tested tricks. Here are the 10 most common shopping scams for Black Friday (the big sales day after Thanksgiving) and Christmas 2021:
- Identity Theft. Comes in many guises; the whole aim is to steal your bank account, credit card, and other personal information. In particular, watch out for fake order confirmation messages or package delivery notifications, which will lead you to a bogus sign-on page. Don’t click these messages. Go to the real site and check there.
- Fake websites. Clever scammers know how to get their phony websites near the top of search results. They may feature non-existent products at knockdown prices or bargain holiday travel. They want your money, but you’ll get nothing in return.
- Fake social media ads. These may lead to fake websites. Often, they feature bogus coupon offers, special sales, or free gifts and vouchers. Don’t click on them unless you have security software; and if you do, don’t make purchases or provide financial information until you’ve thoroughly checked them out.
- Phony charity appeals. Again, these may appear as ads on social media or via emails with links to scam sites. Charity scams are one of the biggest online frauds at this time of year. If you want to donate, do it directly after confirming the organization is genuine.
- Porch pirates and mailbox thieves. They’re out in force to rob you. Secure your deliveries with a lockable box, a neighbor who’ll look out for you, or have items delivered to a pickup point.
- Gift card fraud. Gift cards are an easy option when you don’t have time or can’t think what to buy. Two-thirds of us buy them. Be cautious buying them at discounted prices from third-party resellers. And never use one yourself to pay someone you don’t know.
- Ecard scams. A lot of people are switching from mailing regular Christmas and Thanksgiving cards to sending “virtual” cards that drop into inboxes. It’s quick and it’s cheap. But they may also install malware on your PC. Be wary when you click on them. Most Windows security software lets you right click on a file to check it before opening.
- Malicious shopping apps. If you use a mobile app (especially on an Android device) for your holiday shopping, make sure it’s legit. Be cautious about apps that specifically target Thanksgiving or Christmas or that don’t explain what they do with the information you provide.
- Knockoffs. You think you’re buying a top brand at a premium but good price, but you’ll just get an imitation, or it may not even resemble the photo of what you thought you were buying.
- Fake seasonal job postings or money mules/reshippers. You may need extra money for you gift buying when you see a promising online job ad offering seasonal or work-from-home employment. Scams include upfront pay checks that bounce, payment for training materials, demands for personal information, and even operating as a forwarding address for crooks.
More Actions You Can Take
- Check URLs. Make sure your keyed in or landed on the correct webpage. Scam sites often use similar names to genuine ones.
- Buy from reputable or research unfamiliar sites. If you’ve never heard of it or used it before and it offers bargain prices or hard to get products, it’s a high risk and needs to be thoroughly investigated.
- Ignore 5-star reviews and gushing recommendations. Don’t base your buying decisions on these alone.
- Use a credit card. They mostly offer full protection on fraudulent use of your card. Never wire money to pay. And don’t apply for a credit card from someone you’ve never heard of without researching them.
- Use a different password for each online account. You should be doing this already, but you can also use your online shopping as an opportunity to change duplicated or old passwords.
- Ensure you have up to date Internet security software installed, especially those that can operate within your browser to check site safety.
- Monitor credit agencies, credit cards, and bank accounts. After your big spend, when your account and other financial details have had a good airing, it’s particularly important to keep tabs on your online credit and spending records.
If you discover or suspect you’ve been scammed, report it immediately to law enforcement, your bank, your card company, and the credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Each of the agencies has info on how to freeze your credit.