Black Friday is almost here and many consumers are eager to bag-a-bargain. An annual occurance on the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday first began in the U.S. during the 1950s, and has since spread to countries around the world, from Austria to Azerbaijan. Big-ticket appliances, designer clothes, TVs, and toys are deeply discounted during this commercial buying bonanza.

While brick-and-mortar shopping is back, 55% of consumers intend to make purchases online this year. As you get going with holiday shopping, steer clear of dodgy deals, bogus vendors, and serious scams. Across a few short weeks, cyber security researchers have observed that over 56% of Black Friday-related emails have intended to dupe and deceive recipients. Here’s how to exercise caution around email offers and how to remain vigilant as you snap up sales.

7 scams that could spoil your holiday season

1. Avoid clicking on ‘missed delivery’ links. Sky-high prices and sluggish delivery times might make it tempting to click on that link from the shipping company. After all, you want to know what’s happening with so and so’s present. But is the link the real deal? According to Check Point, 17% of malicious files distributed this month have stemmed from delivery and shipping scams. As a buyer, beware of messages that claim to originate from DHL, UPS, Royal mail and other delivery services. Check and verify message content, and as you do so, avoid calling phone numbers listed in messages.

2. Phishing. A holiday twist on phishing scams? Look out for phishing emails that purportedly arrive from major retailers. Recently, researchers at the security firm Avanan discovered that hackers were distributing fake Amazon ‘order notification’ emails. The emails looked like your average order confirmation, however, the orders were fake. In the event that a recipient attempted to verify the order with Amazon by calling the number in the email, the fraudsters would not initially answer the call. But they would call back and ask for a credit card number. Then, boom, they would have someone’s information.

3. Credit card skimming. Have you ever been the victim of credit card skimming at a gasoline pump? Now, cyber attackers can use virtual mechanisms to steal credit card numbers from a website. It’s just like traditional skimming, but with online payment information. At present, there isn’t an easy way for the average person to discern an e-skimming attempt. The only sign might be that a website visually looks ‘off’. To protect your credit card, only make purchases over your home network or cellular network. Avoid public Wi-Fi, where payments can be intercepted. Additionally, if you’re not traveling, disable international purchases on all credit cards.

4. PayPal requests. A newly reported PayPal scam involves an official PayPal email asking you to provide funds for a product or service. The message offers a means of canceling the payment request if the recipient believes it to be a scam (which it is). In order to cancel the request, the recipient must ostensibly call the crooks via a number provided. Ignore PayPal emails that are unrelated to a known, existing purchase. Don’t call the criminals back. Don’t send money.

5. WhatsApp voucher scams and competitions. Via WhatsApp, you may receive a message about a free shopping voucher or amazing competitions that might help you score big-ticket items. These types of scams commonly lure people into sharing personal information. Exercise caution when it comes to unsolicited WhatsApp messages, especially those offering deals, discounts and play-to-win opportunities.

6. Tickets to nowhere. Cyber criminals are running online ticket scams that lead eager concert-goers or sporting event attendees to purchase tickets on hacker-created illegitimate websites. If payment is sent, fraudsters may send individuals phony pictures of tickets or a weird story about why people cannot attend the event. And of course, because payment has been sent, the scammers will have the buyers’ credit card numbers.

7. Fake Amazon reviews. Thousands of people flock to Amazon in order to purchase highly sough-after consumer goods; from kitchen gadgets, to accessories, to laptops. While many rely on reviews to inform purchasing decisions, over 60% of all reviews on the site have been classified as fake. Ensure that you can spot the fakes so that you start the holiday season with the products that you want. Look out for lazy reviews that contain only one or two words, products with a high volume of one or five star reviews, glance at reviewer profiles, and look for reviews with the label ‘verified purchase’.

This sale isn’t going to last!

Beware of emails, ads, and other enticing messages that drive a sense of urgency. Cyber criminals prey on peoples’ sense of fear, scarcity and impulsive behavior. Chances are that you don’t urgently need whatever item it is that someone is trying to sell you – so step back, think twice, and look for signs signaling a scam.

Should you report scams? 

If you fall victim to an online or otherwise internet-enabled scam, report it to law enforcement in a timely manner so that they can help support the recovery of any lost funds. Crime reports are also used for investigative and intelligence purposes. If no one says anything, authorities will not be able to take action against cyber criminals.

Final thoughts

Scams appear in all shapes, sizes and styles. This Black Friday, lock in the best deals, but operate with unstoppable cyber savvy and strategic scam-awareness smarts. Happy shopping!

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