Nothing quite compares to the adrenaline rush of snagging that perfect discounted item or the thrill of finding a hidden gem amidst the sea of holiday chaos. But amidst this excitement, let’s not forget the lurking danger of scams that can quickly turn our shopping adventures into nightmares.
And it turns out we’re not as great at detecting scams as we might think. A study by AARP found that 78% of consumers over the age of 18weren’t able to correctly detect ways they could be scammed online. From fake websites to phishing emails, scammers are on the prowl, ready to exploit our festive spirits and empty our wallets.
Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to be a savvy shopper. Take a moment to arm yourself with the ways you can avoid getting ripped off this year so that your Christmas stockings can be hung full of cheer…and not fraud reports.
What is the number of Black Friday shopping-related scam URLs the Trend Micro Research Team found between October 1 and November 9 this year?
The ‘Too-Good-to-Be-True’ deal
We’ve all seen ads promising unbelievable discounts or prizes that seem too good to pass up. But these scammers are masters of deception. They know exactly how to bait us with enticing offers that make it hard to pass up.
Take, for example, the infamous “free iPhone” giveaway that pops up occasionally. It promises a brand new iPhone for the low price of just entering your personal information.
But here’s the catch – it’s all a scam. These fake ads and websites are designed to steal your information or trick you into making a purchase that will never arrive. So, before you get lured in by those unbeatable deals, remember to stay vigilant and do your due diligence. Double-check the website’s legitimacy, read reviews, and trust your gut. It’s better to be safe than sorry when protecting your hard-earned money.
The bogus gift card game
Gift card scams are a sneaky tactic scammers use to steal your money or personal information. These scams typically involve fake gift card offers or requests for payment using gift cards. Here’s how they work:
1. Phony gift card offers: Scammers may send you emails, text messages, or social media posts claiming you’ve won a gift card or offering you a heavily discounted gift card. They’ll ask you to provide personal information or make a payment to receive the gift card. In reality, there is no gift card, and the scammers are just trying to get your information or money.
2. Payment with gift cards: Scammers may also pretend to be a company or organization that requires payment using gift cards. They’ll ask you to purchase gift cards and provide them with the card numbers and codes as payment. Once they have this information, they can use the gift cards themselves or sell them for cash.
These scams can be dangerous because they can result in financial loss or identity theft. If you provide your personal information, scammers can use it for fraudulent purposes, such as opening credit accounts in your name or making unauthorized purchases. If you provide gift card information, you may lose its value, making it difficult to trace or recover the funds.
How to spot fake gift card offers?
1. Be skeptical of unsolicited offers: If you receive an unexpected email, text message, or social media post offering you a gift card, be cautious. Legitimate companies typically don’t randomly give away gift cards, especially without your prior interaction or participation.
2. Look for red flags: Watch out for poor grammar or spelling mistakes in the offer, as it’s often a sign something’s not right.
3. Never provide personal information: Legitimate gift card offers will not ask for sensitive personal data like your Social Security number, bank account details, or passwords. If a gift card offer requests this information, it’s likely a scam.
4. Purchase gift cards from trusted sources: If you decide to buy a gift card, purchase it from reputable retailers or the company’s official website. Avoid buying gift cards from ads you see online or sketchy-looking websites.
Phishing and spoofing shenanigans
Phishing and spoofing are tactics used by scammers to deceive people into providing their personal information or login credentials. These tactics often involve sending emails or creating websites that mimic legitimate organizations or businesses to trick individuals into sharing sensitive information. The scammers then will either use this information to commit fraud or will sell it on the dark web to, let’s say, less-than-awesome people.
How can you spot these phishing and spoofing attempts? Here are a few key indicators:
1. Check the email address or URL: Scammers will often use email addresses or URLs that are slightly different from the legitimate ones. For example, instead of “[email protected],” they might use “[email protected].” Be vigilant and double-check the email address or URL before clicking any links or entering your information.
2. Look for spelling and grammar mistakes: Many phishing emails or spoofed websites contain typos, grammatical errors, or awkward language. Legitimate companies and organizations typically have professional communications, so be wary of any mistakes that seem out of place.
3. Hover over links: Before clicking on any links in an email or website, hover your cursor over them to see where they will take you. If the link looks suspicious or leads to a different website than it claims to, it’s best to proceed cautiously or not click on it at all. Scammers often use deceptive links to redirect you to their fraudulent websites, so verifying the destination can save you from falling into their trap.
4. Be cautious of urgency and pressure: Phishing emails often try to create a sense of urgency or pressure to prompt you into taking immediate action. They may claim that your account is in danger or that you’ve won a prize that will expire soon. Remember to take a step back and evaluate the situation calmly. Legitimate organizations typically communicate important matters through secure channels and don’t rely on urgent email requests.
5. Trust your instincts: If something feels off about an email or website, trust your gut. Scammers are skilled at creating convincing imitations, but if you have any doubts or suspicions, it’s better to err on the side of caution than risk exposing yourself to fraud.
Research and price comparison
When it comes to making informed purchasing decisions, doing your homework is crucial. Researching products and comparing prices can help you find the best deals, save money, and, most importantly, avoid getting ripped off.
Here are a few reasons why research and price comparisons should be a top priority for your holiday shopping.
1. Finding the best value: By comparing prices from different retailers or online platforms, you can get the best value for your money. Sometimes, a quick search can reveal that the same product is available at a lower price elsewhere.
2. Avoiding scams and counterfeit products: Researching a product before purchasing can help you identify scams or counterfeit items. Reading reviews and checking for authenticity can protect you from falling victim to fraudulent sellers.
3. Understanding product features and specifications: Researching a product allows you to familiarize yourself with its features, specifications, and performance. This knowledge can help you make an informed decision and choose a product that meets your needs.
To make your research and price comparison process easier, there are several tools and apps available:
1. Price comparison websites: Websites like PriceGrabber, Google Shopping, and Shopzilla allow you to compare prices from various retailers for a specific product. These websites often display a list of prices, user reviews, and ratings, making it easier to make an informed decision.
2. Browser extensions: Browser extensions like Honey or CamelCamelCamel can automatically compare prices from different websites and notify you if there’s a better deal available.
3. Mobile apps: There are numerous mobile apps available for price comparison, such as ShopSavvy, ScanLife, or BuyVia. These apps often allow you to scan barcodes or search for products to compare prices across multiple retailers.
Stick to reputable retailers
With the endless number of e-commerce sites that pop up during the holidays, it’s particularly crucial to stick to the sites you know and are comfortable using.
Here are a few reasons why shopping at trusted online stores is a “must-do:”
1. Authenticity and quality: Reputable retailers are likelier to sell authentic, high-quality products. They have established relationships with manufacturers and distributors, ensuring that their products are genuine and reliable.
2. Secure payment options: Trusted online stores prioritize the security of their customer’s payment information. They offer secure payment options, such as encrypted transactions and trusted payment gateways, to protect your financial data.
3. Customer service and returns: Reputable retailers often have dedicated customer service teams to assist you with any questions or concerns. They also have clear return policies, making returning or exchanging products easier if needed.
4. Reviews and ratings: Trusted online stores usually have customer reviews and ratings for their products. These reviews can provide valuable insights into the quality and performance of the products you’re interested in, helping you make informed purchasing decisions.
Secure your data
Your data isn’t just anonymous information; it’s now become a highly specialized, profitable product that can not only be used to identify you but also make you an easy victim of fraud. The FTC recently found one broker had so much information for sale that the words “staggering” and “terrifying” were used in court docs!
Here are a few steps you can take to protect yourself and your data while shopping this year:
1. Avoid unsecured websites: Before entering any personal or payment information, make sure the website is secure. Look for “https://” at the beginning of the website URL and a padlock symbol in the address bar. This indicates that the website has a valid SSL certificate and that your data will be encrypted during transmission.
2. Use secure payment methods: When making online purchases, opt for secure payment methods like credit cards or reputable third-party payment services like PayPal. These methods offer additional layers of protection, including fraud monitoring and dispute resolution.
3. Enable two-factor authentication: Many online retailers and payment services offer two-factor authentication (2FA) as an added security measure. By enabling 2FA, you’ll need to provide a second form of verification, such as a unique code sent to your mobile device, in addition to your password. This helps prevent unauthorized access to your accounts.
4. Keep your devices and software updated: Regularly update your computer, smartphone, and other devices with the latest security patches and updates. These updates often address vulnerabilities that could be exploited by hackers or malware.
5. Be cautious with public Wi-Fi: Avoid making online purchases or accessing sensitive information when connected to public Wi-Fi networks. These networks are often unsecured, making it easier for hackers to intercept your data. If you must use public Wi-Fi, consider using a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your connection.
Check the website’s URL
Here are some tips to help you analyze URLs:
1. Look for “https://” at the beginning: The “s” in “https” stands for “secure,” indicating that the website has a valid SSL certificate and that your data will be encrypted during transmission. Avoid entering personal or payment information on websites with only “http://” as they are not secure.
2. Pay attention to the domain name: The domain name should match the website you intend to visit. Be cautious of misspellings, extra letters, or numbers in the domain name, as these can indicate fraudulent websites. For example, instead of “amazon.com,” a deceptive website might have a domain like “amaz0n.com” or “amazon-deals123.com.”
3. Beware of subdomains: Subdomains are additional parts of a website’s URL that come before the main domain name. Pay attention to subdomains that seem unusual or out of place. For example, a deceptive webpage might have a subdomain like “secure.amazon-deals123.com” instead of the legitimate “amazon.com.”
4. Check for a padlock symbol: Look for a padlock symbol in your browser’s address bar. This indicates that the website has a valid SSL certificate and that your connection to the site is secure.
5. Be cautious of shortened URLs: Shortened URLs, such as those created by URL shortening services (bit.ly, etc.), can hide the true destination of a link and send you to a spoofed website designed to steal your info. Consider verifying the destination before clicking if you receive a shortened URL in an email or message.
Examples of deceptive website URLs you might run into:
1. www.amaz0n-deals123.com: This URL uses a misspelling of “amazon” and includes additional words like “deals123” to deceive users into thinking it is a legitimate Amazon website.
2. www.paypal-login-security.com: This URL includes the word “PayPal but adds “login-security” to trick users into thinking it is an official PayPal website. Always double-check the domain name to ensure it matches the legitimate website.
3. www.yourbankname.net-login-verification.com: This URL uses a combination of your bank’s name and additional words like “login-verification” to create a deceptive website that appears to be your bank’s login page.
Read reviews and ratings
One of the best ways to gauge the legitimacy and quality of a product or service is by reading reviews and ratings from other customers. They provide authentic feedback that (ideally) show real-life uses and experiences, build trust, and answer questions that inevitably help you decide whether or not to click the “buy” button.
Scammers know this all too well, which is why there are so many fake reviews out there now. But you can beat them by understanding the game they play.
Tips for recognizing fake reviews:
1. Look for patterns: If you notice a large number of reviews that use similar language, have the same tone, or seem overly positive or negative, it could be a sign of fake reviews. Genuine customer experiences tend to vary, so an overwhelming number of similar reviews should raise suspicions.
2. Check the reviewer’s profile: Take a look at the reviewer’s profile and history. If they have only written a single review or have a limited history of reviewing products, it could indicate that they are not genuine customers. Similarly, if a reviewer consistently gives extremely positive or negative reviews, it may suggest that they have an ulterior motive.
3. Consider the content and details: Genuine reviews often provide specific details about the product or service, including its pros and cons. They may mention particular features, use cases, or personal experiences. On the other hand, fake reviews tend to be generic, lacking details or personal anecdotes.
4. Evaluate the overall sentiment: Pay attention to the overall sentiment of the reviews. If most reviews seem too good to be true or excessively negative without any constructive criticism, it could be a sign of manipulation. Genuine reviews usually present a mix of positive and negative feedback.
Trust your gut
When shopping online, trusting your gut and listening to your intuition is essential. If something feels off or too good to be true, it’s often a good idea to exercise caution and skepticism.
Here are some reasons why trusting your gut is important and how to use common sense when shopping online:
1. Suspicious website design: If a website’s design looks unprofessional, cluttered, or poorly maintained, it could be a red flag. Trust your instincts and consider whether you feel comfortable inputting your personal or financial information on such a site.
2. Unrealistic prices or offers: If you come across a product or service that is significantly cheaper or offers unrealistic benefits compared to other sources, it’s wise to be skeptical. Scammers often use unbelievably low prices or too-good-to-be-true offers to lure unsuspecting consumers.
3. Poor grammar and spelling: Legitimate businesses take pride in their online presence and usually have well-written content. If you notice multiple grammar or spelling errors on a website or in communications, it could indicate a lack of professionalism or even a scam.
4. Pressure to act quickly: Scammers often create a sense of urgency to push you into making impulsive decisions. Be wary of websites or sellers that pressure you to buy immediately or claim that the offer is only available for a limited time.
5. Trustworthy payment methods: Use trusted and secure payment methods when making online purchases. Platforms like PayPal and Stripe provide additional layers of security and buyer protection. If a website only offers payment methods that seem less secure or obscure, it’s worth considering whether it’s a legitimate business.
6. Research the seller or website: Before purchasing from an unfamiliar seller or website, take the time to research their reputation and reviews. Look for information about their customer service, return policy, and any negative experiences others may have had. This will help you make an informed decision and avoid potential scams
Sign up for retailers’ newsletters
Signing up for retailers’ newsletters can provide several benefits that help keep you safe while working on your gift-buying list.
Here are some reasons why you should consider subscribing to official retailer updates:
1. Exclusive discounts and deals: Retailers often send their newsletter subscribers special offers, promotions, and discount codes. By signing up, you can gain access to exclusive discounts that may not be available to the general public.
2. Early access to sales and new releases: Retailers often notify their subscribers about upcoming sales, clearance events, or new product releases ahead of time. By being on their email list, you can be among the first to know and take advantage of these opportunities. This can give you a competitive edge and increase your chances of snagging popular items before they sell out.
3. Product recommendations and inspiration: Retailers’ newsletters often include product recommendations, styling tips, and inspiration to help you make informed purchasing decisions. They may feature curated collections, customer reviews, or outfit ideas that can help you discover new products or find inspiration for your style.
4. Updates on store events and promotions: If you enjoy heading to in-store events, workshops, or VIP shopping experiences, subscribing to retailers’ newsletters can keep you up-to-date about their exclusive events, store openings, or special promotions.
However, getting multiple emails from your favorite stores can get overwhelming fast, especially during the holidays when they’re pushing more offers, products, and deals.
Here are some tips for keeping some sanity in your inbox:
1. Create a separate email folder: Set up a dedicated folder in your email account to store retailer newsletters. This way, they won’t clutter your primary inbox, but you can still access them when needed.
2. Unsubscribe selectively: If you find that certain retailers’ newsletters are not relevant to your interests or are overwhelming your inbox, consider unsubscribing from those specific newsletters. Focus on keeping subscriptions to retailers that you frequently shop from or those that offer valuable benefits.
3. Use email filters: Most email providers allow you to create filters that automatically sort incoming emails into specific folders based on criteria you set. You can create filters to route retailer newsletters directly to your dedicated folder, keeping your primary inbox clutter-free.
4. Set preferences for email frequency: Some retailers may allow you to customize your email preferences, including the frequency of newsletters you receive. Adjusting these settings can help you balance staying informed while avoiding email overload
Set price alerts
Price-tracking tools are a valuable resource as they can help you monitor price changes and ensure you get the best deal possible. These tools track the prices of specific products and notify you when there is a price drop.
Here’s how to use them effectively:
1. Choose a reliable price-tracking tool: There are several price-tracking tools available, such as Camelcamelcamel, Honey, and Keepa. Research and choose one that is reputable, user-friendly, and compatible with the online retailers you frequently shop from.
2. Install a browser extension or app: Most price-tracking tools offer browser extensions or mobile apps that make it convenient to track prices. Install the extension on your preferred browser or download the app to your smartphone.
3. Search for the product you want to track: Once the price-tracking tool is installed, go to the product page of the item you want to purchase. Activate the tool by clicking on the browser extension or opening the app.
4. Set your desired price: In the price-tracking tool, set the price at which you would like to be notified. This could be the lowest price you are willing to pay or a price that reflects a significant discount. The tool will monitor the cost and alert you when it reaches or falls below your specified price point.
5. Monitor price history: Price-tracking tools often provide a graph or chart showing the product’s price history. This can help you determine if the current price is a good deal or if it’s better to wait for a further price drop.
6. Act quickly when notified: When the price drops to your desired level or below, the price-tracking tool will send you an alert, either through a push notification or email. It’s important to act quickly as prices can change frequently. Visit the retailer’s website and make your purchase before the price goes back up.
Keep in mind that not all products may experience significant price drops, but for items with fluctuating prices, these tools can be a game-changer.
Plan ahead and set a budget
Planning and setting a budget is essential for responsible and stress-free shopping. Here are some tips to help you stay on track:
1. Make a shopping list: Before you start shopping, create a list of the items you need to purchase. This will help you stay focused and avoid impulse buying. Be specific and prioritize the most important things.
2. Set spending limits: Determine how much you can afford to spend on your shopping trip or for specific categories like clothing, electronics, or gifts. This will prevent overspending and ensure that you stay within your means.
3. Do your research: Research the prices of the items on your shopping list before making a purchase. Compare prices online and in-store to find the best deals. Take advantage of price-tracking tools to monitor price drops and discounts.
4. Use cash or debit cards: Consider using cash or a debit card instead of credit cards to avoid overspending. With cash, you can physically see how much you’re spending, and using a debit card will limit your purchases to the funds available in your bank account.
5. Avoid impulse buying: Stick to your shopping list and resist the temptation to buy unnecessary items. Take a moment to think about whether you truly need the item or if it’s just a spur-of-the-moment desire.
6. Set a time limit: Allocate a specific amount of time for your shopping trip. This will help you stay focused and prevent excessive browsing or lingering in stores, which can lead to impulse purchases.
7. Track your expenses: Keep track of your spending as you shop. Use a budgeting app or simply jot down your purchases in a notebook. This will give you a clear picture of how much you’ve spent and help you stay accountable to your budget.
8. Avoid shopping when emotional: They call it “retail therapy” for a reason!Emotional shopping can feel great at the moment but can quickly lead to impulsive and unnecessary purchases that wreck your budget. If you’re feeling stressed, sad, or bored, find healthier ways to cope with your emotions, such as exercising, meditating, or engaging in a hobby.
9. Look for deals and discounts: Take advantage of sales, coupons, and loyalty programs to save money. Sign up for retailer newsletters or follow them on social media to stay informed about special promotions and discounts.
Remember, the holiday season is a time of joy and giving…and also a time of increased scamming activity. So, as you venture into the chaotic world of holiday shopping, arm yourself with knowledge and be a savvy shopper. Happy shopping, and may the sales be ever in your favor!