By Roy Urrico
Black Friday and Cyber Monday may be over, but scams aimed at online shoppers hunting for holiday bargains still present increased opportunities for cybercriminals. Personal finance experts at Wealth of Geeks warned shoppers rushing to grab the best deals to be extra vigilant of traditional cybercriminal preferences.
Michael Dinich founder of Wealth of Geeks said, “Fraudsters are becoming increasingly clever as technology evolves, and during this busy shopping period, it provides the perfect opportunities to exploit the increased volume of transactions and potentially catch shoppers off guard. Most of the time, a cybercriminal’s motive is to steal a customer's money, or personal information such as bank details, login credentials, personal address.”
Dinich added, “Therefore, to protect themselves, shoppers should take steps to secure their online activities, such as using strong, unique passwords, enabling two-factor authentication, being cautious of phishing attempts, and regularly monitoring their financial statements for any suspicious transactions.”
The Most Common Holiday Scams
Wealth of Geeks shared 10 of the most common holiday scams and how to spot them.
1. Incorrect banking details scam. One of the most common scams finds fraudsters emailing shoppers to say their billing information is incorrect, and that it needs changing immediately or the order will be void. If a retailer asks for a change of banking details with urgency and claims of potentially losing an order, consumers should remain suspicious.
Fraudsters attempt to entice consumers into entering bank details into a spoofed website. Wealth of Geeks suggests regardless of whether someone believes their banking details are correct or not, they should contact the retailer directly to verify.
2. Hot deal scam. Fake websites advertise certain hard to find popular items. These items turn out to be illegitimate and will result in the consumer paying for a product they never receive - with the scammer now possessing personal payment details.
If a consumer comes across an item like this, they should check the legitimacy of the product or the seller through the Better Business Bureau.
3. Phishing emails. Commonly used throughout the year, they try to trick users into disclosing sensitive confidential information. Therefore, it is important to not click on any links or pop-ups from unfamiliar sources. This also applies to websites, including those using suspect URLs (ones with no ‘https’ or locked padlock symbol on the bar) and websites with poor design.
4. Fake tracking number scam. Fraudsters send fraudulent package tracking notifications as an email attachment or link. Scammers use these tactics to infect a device with malware or direct consumers to phishing sites. Legitimate retailers will never send tracking numbers via an attachment. Instead, they normally directly send tracking details to an inbox or accessed via the retailer's website. Shoppers should always visit the seller’s website to get accurate order tracking information.
5. Instant messages. Often, customers may receive a suspicious-looking message with a link to a well-known website, urging them to click to secure a great deal. Scammers will replicate the retailer website’s URLs and layouts, which makes it extremely hard to spot whether it is fraudulent or not. However, a majority of the time the link is fake, and clicking on it will invite an intrusion of malware on your device, making your personal information vulnerable.
Once scammers have encouraged people to click, they will then send phishing messages and keylogging malware straight to your device. Before clicking on a so-called deal, go direct to the retailer's official online website to see if that same deal is there.
6. Fake charity scam. Especially during the holiday season there will be a surge in charity donations, and scammers are aware of this. Therefore, they set up fake charities and use high-pressure tactics to get people to donate. Often a fake charity only accepts payment through gift cards, wire transfers or cryptocurrency.
7. Fake social media profiles. Wealth of Geeks notes “social media profiles are simple to impersonate, as all a scammer must do is copy their logo, branding, hashtags, and content etc.” This mode of communication can trick customers into giving personal information or data, or buying counterfeit products. People can often spot if a social media website is fake through its aggressive advertising campaigns. Consumers should always check for an official verified social media account.
8. Fake product reviews. Fake Amazon product reviews are usually over-packed with technical jargon and feature unusual phrases. “However, it is in fact humans that are promoting these in exchange for payment from the product manufacturer,” said Wealth of Geek. “There are 'review exchange' clubs online, normally on social media sites, where sellers on sites like Amazon will offer goods in return for overly generous comments - often ones that are extremely misleading.” Therefore, if consumers want more accurate reviews of a product, check comparison reviews of the same product on several other official retailers before you purchase.
9. ‘Grey Market’ distribution. Brands often use all kinds of channels to market and sell their products. However, when a product falls out of a brand’s authorized network, they no longer have control. When this happens, unauthorized sellers may not properly display, package, handle, or ship the product correctly. Therefore, returning or exchanging the product becomes more difficult.
10. Gift card and discount scams. Gift cards are a popular, which is why scammers offer gift cards at a discount, but these cards are either empty or stolen. Consumers should only buy gift cards from reputable sources, such as the retailer’s official store or online website. Similarly, scammers send bogus discount and coupon offers via email or social media. Therefore, verify the source of the coupon to ensure it’s valid before using it.