For some, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are an opportunity to stack up on Christmas presents, but for others it’s an opportunity to use your emotions against you and steal your data. Read this post to learn more about such online scams, how to identify them, and what to do if you fall victim.
Common Black Friday and Cyber Monday scams
1. A website requiring you to download an app
Imagine you're about to make an online purchase, when it suddenly turns out that the only way to grab this exclusive deal is to make a purchase through the app.
It’s true that some online shops might offer exclusive deals for mobile app users. However, be cautious. If you are shopping on a merchant’s website and the company asks you to download its app to complete the transaction – it’s time to run. You're most likely being tricked into downloading a fraudulent app designed to steal your payment information.
2. Spoofed websites
Spoofed websites are websites that are designed to look exactly like well-known websites. However, what lies beneath them is a system created to steal your card details and other personal information.
The good news is that with a few tips and tricks, it’s pretty easy to catch them:
Check the URL. Trustworthy websites will always use HTTPS in their URLs, where the “S” stands for “secure.” Most browsers will also have a padlock icon indicating that the website is approved and trustworthy. If you see only HTTP or a broken padlock, the site isn't safe, and you should avoid supplying your sensitive data.
Look out for bad grammar. Glaring spelling mistakes usually mean that the website shouldn’t be trusted. Legitimate websites have content teams who put a lot of time and effort into polishing their content.
Check the “Contact Us” page. A registered company will typically provide its place of business and contact details.
Do your research. Look for online reviews about the company across a variety of sources. But take them with a pinch of salt. If they're all new, written in the same tone, or sound too funny to be true; it’s a reason enough to become suspicious.
3. A delivery issue with your purchase
Beware of follow-up emails and text messages you receive after you've made online purchases. These days, scammers send notifications claiming to be from UPS, FedEx, or even online stores such as Amazon.
It might read something like this:
“We're sorry, but your package couldn't be shipped. Please click here to rearrange delivery or update your method of payment.”
If you are having goods shipped from abroad, also beware of messages that tell you that you must pay extra custom fees. Stop for a moment and check the delivery status on the website where the order was placed. Also check whether custom fees were included in the delivery price.
4. Free Black Friday gift cards
Another common scam involves a notification that you won a gift card from a big retailer like Walmart. All you need to do to claim it is text back a random code.
In reality, this is how scammers can collect your details and infect your device with malware. The scam might then be sent to all of the contacts in your address book.
5. Phishing scams
In a phishing attack, the victim receives an email or text message with bait, which may be a deal that is too hard to pass up on or information you have to act upon immediately. The purpose of such bait is to lure you onto a spoofed website and for you to provide your sensitive data.
If you take the phisher’s bait, know that scammers can use your stolen personal information or payment details to create fake online profiles, take out loans, ruin your credit score, or even steal your identity.
What to do if you were scammed
If you’ve been scammed, don’t worry, it’s not too late to protect your accounts and money. Here’s what you can do:
Check your bank statement. If nothing has happened yet, but you think that your details might have been stolen, regularly check your bank statements for suspicious purchases, no matter how small. Then move to the next step.
Notify your bank. Get in touch with your bank immediately if you have seen a suspicious charge or you paid for a good or service and realized it’s a scam. Your bank will be able to tell you whether the suspicious transaction was fraudulent (or whether you just forgot about it) and in some cases can stop or revert the transaction.
Freeze your card. While you are in contact with your bank, ask it to freeze your card. Some top-up card providers make this solution easy; you can freeze your card in-app.
Notify the seller. It’s a common scamming practice to use well-known brands to lure people into traps. If this happens to you, contact the official seller and inform its customer service that someone is using the brand’s name. The brand can make an official statement, inform its customers directly, and take further security precautions to prevent other people from falling prey.
Learn more about cybersecurity. Once all the steps above are completed, all that is left to do is make sure that you don’t fall prey again. The best way to do so is to learn how to recognize and avoid such scams.
8 easy ways to avoid a scam
1. Try alternative payments
Try to avoid using bank details tied to your lifelong savings or your wage. Use alternatives such as:
Apple Pay or Google Pay. These methods use a combination of biometrics and other digital safeguards, such as 2FA, to secure your details.
Credit cards offer consumer protection in case you need to claim your money back.
Virtual cards can be issued for a one-time purchase or purely for online shopping.
If you use alternative payment methods and your data ends up in the wrong hands, the damage will be minimal. These payment methods usually don’t create access to huge amounts of money and can be frozen fairly quickly.
2. Protect your data with a VPN
If you're shopping on a public Wi-Fi, it’s advisable to do so with a VPN. You never know who’s “reading” the online traffic, and it’s really easy for bad actors to do so over an unprotected Wi-Fi. A VPN encrypts and hides the data you transmit over the internet, so cybercriminals can't steal a thing.
3. Create complex passwords
Setting passwords for a number of online shops can seem arduous. Does this mean you usually create simple, easy-to-remember passwords? If they are easy to remember for you, they are easy to crack for hackers. And since these sites have your name, address, and payment details, they're a goldmine for hackers.
Make sure you use strong passwords that have more than 8 characters and include numbers, upper- and lowercase letters, and special characters, such as .,! @ # ? ];. Don’t worry – you don’t need to do it all on your own. The NordPass Password Generator can help you create complex passwords in a matter of seconds.
4. Keep track of your spending
Keep a close eye on your online accounts and credit card reports, and make sure you see no inconsistencies over the holiday season. Be on the lookout for suspicious purchases, especially minor ones, because scammers tend to start small before going all in.
5. Choose apps with caution
Inspect the name, description, and icon of an app you are about to download. Fraudulent apps can't use the same name as the real app they want to disguise themselves as, so they'll replace o's with 0's or change the name – SwiftKey with SwiftKeyboard or WhatsApp with Update WhatsApp, for example.
If you see the same icon in the app store more than once, be alarmed. A fraudulent app cares little for copyright laws, and not all app stores vet them. Unfortunately, it’s up to you to choose a verified app.
6. Check your emotions
Most scams are designed to use your emotions against you. Before acting, check what you are feeling. Do you feel urgency, greed, or fear? These are indications that the deal or the message you’ve just received is trying to trick you.
Refrain from clicking on links, downloading files, or entering personal details. Contact the seller or the delivery company directly and confirm that your delivery is suspended. Check merchants' social media accounts and see whether their amazing promotion is public. If everything aligns, perfect – you are about to get an amazing deal. If not, better to stay away from it.
7. Check for new scams
Scammers are a creative bunch. As a result, the average person may find it difficult to keep track of all the new scams that emerge every season. One way to keep up to date is to use Google search.
Try running a search with these keywords:
- Company name + scam (“Amazon scam”)
- Product name + scam (“new iphone scam”)
- New method + scam (“delivery SMS scam”)
8. Use a password manager
Password managers are tools that don’t just store your complex passwords, help you generate new ones, or protect them from intruders. Of course, they do all that, but they can also make your online shopping experience a breeze.
Password managers like NordPass can store your payment details and your delivery details, which you can then fill automatically anytime you shop online. That’s right: no need to cancel the purchase just because you can’t find your wallet.
Keep a cool head this season
Who doesn't love a bargain? No one, and that’s ok. If you’ve gotten this far in this article, you should now be fully equipped to identify and avoid scams.
So shop until you drop. Just remember to always double-check the merchant and what they are offering. Let your emotions cool before pressing the “buy” button because as the old adage goes, if it is too good to be true, it probably is.