And just like that, it’s the season of Black Friday sales, special offers, and online shopping again. But this year, uncertainty about the recent global cost of living increases is spurring most shoppers to look for better prices online. Fortunately, as if we pre-ordered it, e-commerce is booming. Global retail e-commerce sales are expected to total $6.3 trillion in 2023.
But the flip side of all that online shoppin’ goin’ on is that threats from scammers, hackers, and con artists have also increased. Global online payment fraud will exceed $343 billion between 2023 and 2027, and three out of four U.S. consumers have been targeted by at least one form of holiday-fever shopping fraud.
So, arm yourself with our tips before you start. We’ll help to protect your financial information and personal data and (possibly) save you some money, too.
Why is the holiday season especially dangerous for online shoppers?
Scammers know that people will be looking for bargains, and they use psychological tactics to exploit our trust. They know that we sometimes make hasty decisions or buy things just because it’s super-exciting to find a juicy bargain. We also buy because of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) or because we feel pressure when confronted with limited-time offers.
So, they cash in by offering too-good-to-be-true deals.
Their fraudulent listings often look legit, but once you’ve paid, the scammer disappears with your hard-earned cash, and the item never arrives. They also use social engineering techniques to trick us, e.g., by impersonating a trusted, well-known brand and sending emails or messages that look legitimate but contain malicious links or attachments.
Tips to stop scammers from taking you for an online ride this holiday season These tips will help you avoid scams and help keep your digital information safe this holiday season.
- Get a good VPN for multiple devices: The first step to safe online shopping, working from home, and social networking is to get a VPN for multiple devices. If you don’t encrypt your internet connection, hackers can intercept credit card details, logins, passwords, and other sensitive data. They can use the information to empty bank accounts, hack your social media, or steal your identity. It’s important to protect all your internet-capable devices.
- Be wary of fake shopping apps: Do you prefer doing the Walmart, Amazon, or Target run on your smartphone? Ensure you don’t accidentally download a fake app from the Apple or Google app stores, like the fake WhatsApp app that was downloaded more than a million times before it was discovered.
- Use a password manager and turn on MFA: Did you know that a password containing 8 standard letters can be cracked instantly? A password made up of a mix of 8 letters and characters will take a few minutes to a couple of hours to crack. Make ‘em long and make ‘em strong by mixing up a minimum of 12 uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Add a layer of protection with MFA and get notifications whenever someone tries to log into your account.
- Experimentation is good, but be cautious while you shop online: It’s better to stick to shopping at trusted websites you’ve used before. But, if you venture beyond the well-known, look for a padlock symbol in your browser’s address bar. This symbol means the website uses encryption, and encrypted sites always start with HTTPS. Don’t shop or provide personal information on sites that start with HTTP.
- Beware of phishing emails and other social engineering tricks: Did you get an email with an enticing offer of extreme discounts? Hover over all the links to see if the web addresses match the details in the message. Look for any weird spellings, extra letters, or other signs to identify possible spoofed websites. Apart from the danger of clicking on links to fake data-stealing websites, emails can also potentially infect your device with viruses or malware.
- Avoid too-good-to-be-true prices or deals: Beware bargain-basement prices or “guaranteed delivery” offers while looking for sold-out or high-demand items. Suspiciously low prices could signal that the vendor does not have the item in stock and that the website is only there to steal your credit card details and sensitive information.
- Use trusted payment methods: You’ll have more options if you get scammed. If you paid with a credit card, contact your card issuer immediately to reverse unauthorized charges. According to federal regulations, if your credit card information gets stolen, you’re not liable for costs while the card company conducts an investigation, so you won’t immediately be out of pocket. However, if scammers get their hands on your debit card or bank account details, they could potentially empty your checking account. Look into the possibilities of a digital wallet, which can also provide a more secure way to shop.
What to do if you’ve been scammed
Even if you’re careful, you could still fall into a trap. Stop all communication with the scammer, and report the scam account to the social media platform or search engine where you found it. Next, file a complaint at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at reportfraud.ftc.gov. You can also use USA.gov’s scam reporting tool to find the correct government agency or organization to contact. And, finally, complain to the Better Business Bureau and any review site you can find. Your actions can help protect others from falling victim to the same scams.