You better watch out this holiday season. Scammers are out to take advantage of you.
The Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker already has received reports of several schemes targeting holiday shoppers. And cybersecurity firms have seen a spike in fraudulent shopping-related websites ahead of Black Friday.
The majority of holiday scams that are circulating this year have been surfacing online. But that doesn't mean that shoppers who stick to traditional brick-and-mortar stores are safe from crooks. Everyone needs to be extra cautious at this time of year.
As the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. So being aware of the most common Black Friday and holiday scams will help you avoid them. Here are the top 10 schemes to be on the lookout for this year.
Fake Black Friday sales
Between November 11 and 13, cybersecurity company Trend Micro detected more than 400,000 emails promoting fake Black Friday sales. The emails featured deep discounts on expensive items, such as Rolex watches, and contained links to fake online shops. Consumers who shop on those sites will likely receive inferior products or nothing at all, according to Trend Micro.
Look-alike retail websites
Scammers create websites that mimic trusted retailers' sites. Some simply make up new retail sites that pop up around the holidays with what appear to be great deals. Since October 1, Trend Micro has detected nearly 35,000 URLs for fake retail sites.
If you receive emails that supposedly are from retailers or see ads online for deals, pay particular attention to the spelling of the retailer’s name in the link. It might appear to be a link for a retailer you know, but if the name is slightly misspelled (such as Amaz0n with a zero), don’t click on the link. Your best bet is to avoid clicking on any links in emails or online ads. Instead, go directly to a retailer’s website to search for deals.
Hot toy scams
Must-have holiday toys can sell out quickly. So be wary of online ads and unfamiliar websites offering deals or flash sales on hard-to-find toys. Even if the site looks legitimate, the offers usually are fake, according to Better Business Bureau. Shoppers either receive counterfeit items or make a payment and never receive the item they purchased.
Hot toys this year include Furby, Barbie Dreamhouse, Fingerlings, Bitzee, Lego, Elmo Slide, Dog-E, Beast Lab and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mayhem Pizza Fire Delivery Van. Shoppers have reported to the BBB that they've clicked on ads on social media sites for deals on hot toys and have made purchases only to receive nothing but a charge to their credit cards.
Alerts about compromised accounts
If you get an email or text message that there has been unusual activity on your bank account or another account, such as Amazon, Netflix, PayPal or Venmo, it’s a scam. Most recently, scammers have been impersonating American Express and Navy Federal Credit Union in emails asking recipients to verify their account information, according to Trend Micro.
Beware of messages that urge you to take immediate action to stop a fraudulent charge or prevent your account from being compromised. The links in these messages will take you to websites that ask for your account information, which scammers will use to access your account. If you’re concerned that there might be suspicious activity on your account, contact the company directly by calling the number on its website. Don’t call a number provided to you in an email or text message.
[ See: Don’t Fall for Zelle Scams ]
Scammers take advantage of online shopping around the holidays to send fake shipping confirmation emails and text messages. The messages appear to come from the U.S. Postal Service or legitimate shipping companies and claim that the company is having trouble delivering a package to you. Or, it might ask you to update your delivery preferences.
Don’t click on any links in these messages. They will take you to a form that requires your personal information, which will be stolen. Or they will download malware onto your computer.
Fake order confirmation emails
Amazon has issued warnings about fake order confirmation emails that appear to come from the online retailer. The emails ask recipients to click on a link or call to confirm or cancel orders they actually didn't make. The aim is to get consumers to share their credit card information, which will be stolen, or to download an order confirmation document, which will contain malware. Amazon cautions customers to log onto their accounts to check their order history rather than respond to suspicious emails.
Browser extension scams
There are legitimate browser extensions such as Coupon Cabin and PayPal Honey that will automatically find deals and coupon codes for you as you shop online. But scammers create fake ones that install spyware on computers. Before downloading any browser extensions, search online for reviews about them from trusted sources. If you can't find any reviews or see complaints, avoid those browser extensions.
Social media gift exchanges
Don’t be tempted to join a gift exchange online with people you haven’t met. This scam pops up annually, with the latest version being called a Secret Sister gift exchange and promising that participants will receive up to 36 gifts, according to BBB. Other versions include purchasing $10 gifts online, submitting your email to a list to pick a name and send money to a stranger to “pay it forward,” and sending a gift for a “Secret Santa Dog.”
All versions require providing your personal information and often the contact information of other family and friends. And you’re tricked into sending gifts or money to strangers.
Free gift cards
Watch out for emails with offers for free gift cards—even if the emails appear to come from legitimate companies. Scammers send these phishing emails in an attempt to get your personal information. This scam also can appear as a text message with a link to claim a free gift card or prize. Whatever you do, don’t click on the links or respond to these messages. They might download malware onto your computer or device or send you to a fake site that aims to steal your personal information.
Scammers take advantage of people’s generosity during the holiday season by creating fake charities or pretending to be people in need. Be wary of any organization that pressures you to make a donation on the spot, requests to be paid in cash or by gift card or wire transfer, that won’t provide specifics about how your money will be used or promises you’ll win a sweepstakes if you donate.
Research organizations before giving by searching online for the name of the organization and the words “complaint,” “review” or “scam.” Find out if the charity is registered in your state by checking with your state charity regulator. And get reports on charities and their ratings at organizations such as Charity Navigator and CharityWatch.
[ Find Out: How to Avoid Charity Scams ]
How to avoid holiday scams
Being aware of common scams can help you avoid them. However, scammers are always coming up with new tactics. That's why it's important to take additional steps to protect yourself this holiday season.
- Beware of deals that are too good to be true. Unreasonably low prices—especially on hard-to-find items—are a red flag for scams.
- Stick with retailers you trust. One of the best ways to avoid scams is to shop only with well-known retailers. If you see deals advertised online for retailers you’re not familiar with, search the company names online along with the word “reviews,” “scam” or “complaint.” Also, visit BBB.org to see reviews of companies.
- Don't click on links in emails or text messages, even if they appear to come from trusted retailers. Visit retailers’ sites directly to see if you can find the deal that you’ve been notified about. And if you’ve ordered items online, use the package tracking information that you were provided in your purchase confirmation email.
- Don’t click on ads for discounted items. Instead, go directly to the retailer’s site. If you don’t find the advertised deals on the official site, the ad likely was fake.
- Make sure websites are legitimate and secure by checking the URL for misspellings and extra letters or characters (for example, a fake Dick's Sporting Goods URL might appear as d-sportinggoods). Look for https:// and a padlock symbol. Also, look for customer service contact information. If you can't find any or if it directs you to a generic email address, avoid making purchases from that site.
- Use a credit card for online purchases. Credit cards offer more protections than other forms of payment if you need to get your money back for fraudulent transactions and for purchases that merchants aren’t willing to refund.
- Monitor bank and credit card accounts for unauthorized charges. There’s still a chance that scammers could get your credit or debit card information even if you take the steps above to stay safe. Signing up for a service such as Carefull can provide 24/7 monitoring of your bank and credit card accounts for unusual or fraudulent transactions, as well as credit and identity monitoring. You can try Carefull for free for 30 days.
[ Keep Reading: How to Report a Fraudulent Charge]