Black Friday – the pre-Christmas retail frenzy that offers hefty discounts on tech, cameras, lenses, phones, software and everything in between – can save you some serious cash. But the bad news is it can also be a playground for scammers looking to take advantage of eager online shoppers. Read on to protect yourself from fraud, scams and cyber crime…
If you’re preparing for the biggest shopping days of the year, you need to be aware of the potential scams and know how to protect yourself. If you don’t, you could end up with a nasty dent in your wallet. Or worse, become the victim of online fraud.
With the help of industry experts, we’ve compiled the most common Black Friday shopping scams and ways to avoid falling victim to them.
Common scams to look out for
No matter what you’re shopping for, don’t think you’re ever immune to the threat of cybercrooks.
Steven Dick, co-director at The Fitness Group, says scams in any industry are an issue all year round, but particularly so on Black Friday.
“Scammers are all too aware that it’s the time of year that people are likely to be looking to spend more than they otherwise would,” Dick says.
“The tactics which are used to deceive purchasers are very crafty and can catch anyone out.”
Here are the typical scams all shoppers should be aware of when buying anything online during this year’s Black Friday:
Watch out for emails that claim to offer exclusive deals. While many retailers will promote their Black Friday bargains via email, cybercriminals can mimic popular sellers by creating a fake but very similar email address and then replicating the format and language style of genuine emails from the retailer. Instead of clicking the link in the email, make sure you go to the website by typing the name into your browser, or search via Google.
“The fraudulent email will contain a link to a fake website where its sole purpose is to steal your information,” explains Stuart Deavall, digital marketing manager at NetGiant. “A simple way to tell if a website is secure is to check whether the site has a security certificate, which should be evident by a small padlock next to the URL, depending on your browser.”
Anne Cutler, cybersecurity evangelist at Keeper Security, warns that it’s common for cybercriminals to set up malicious fake “online stores” whose only purpose is to steal payment card data and other personal information.
“Stick with retailers that are well known or that you’ve done business with before,” she says. “If the website and deal feels too good to be true, it probably is.”
It’s worth having your wits about you, even when shopping on the high street. Some sellers may advertise a specific item at a low price, but when you visit the store, they claim it’s sold out and try to upsell a more expensive alternative.
“Stick to trusted retailers and always read reviews beforehand,” advises Dick.
Another common scam that’s growing in popularity is ‘smishing’ – the act of using SMS text messages as a trap, whereby scammers will pose as a business, claiming that a parcel is being delivered to your address.
“This scam could be easier to fall for during Black Friday, when you may have made multiple orders on different sites, and are waiting for goods to be delivered,” says Deavall.
“The criminal may send a link for you to click through; if it’s unclear who the sender is, based on the URL, you shouldn’t open the link.”
To report a suspicious text to your mobile provider, the UK Government recommends forwarding any texts that don’t feel legit to 7726 for free.
Malicious mobile apps
Fraudulent mobile apps are also very common during the Black Friday sales season, says Cutler. In the same way that fake websites look almost identical to their authentic counterparts, mobile apps will masquerade as the real deal with no intention of sending you the item you paid for.
“Designed to look like legitimate shopping apps, these platforms can contain malware, steal personal information and deceive users into making purchases that never arrive.”
Customer support impersonation
Another prevalent scam used by online crooks involves fraudsters claiming to be customer support from large companies, especially popular retailers where you might have made a Black Friday order.
“Watch out for text messages claiming that you’ve made multiple expensive purchases that you need to verify,” warns Deavall.
“The aim of the scam is to lure you into responding that you haven’t authorised the transaction, which can then lead to you resetting your password.”
During this process, the imposters can gain access to your sensitive information and steal passwords and login details.
Tips for avoiding Black Friday scams
Now you’re aware of the common tactics scammers use to try and con you into taking your money, here are some of the best ways to be more vigilant when shopping online:
Read the small print
Scammers might promote irresistible deals such as cheap gym memberships, but they often come with hidden fees or long-term commitments. Read the fine print, and be wary once again of providing your personal details.
Avoid using public Wi-Fi
Although you may see a great Black Friday deal and want to make the most of the bargain there and then, it’s always a wise idea to wait until you can make the purchase using your private WiFi connection or mobile data.
Using your home WiFi to make purchases can help prevent cyber criminals pinching your personal information
“Any public network is open to abuse, meaning there is always the chance that a fraudster is monitoring your activity and can log your payment details,” says Deavall.
“The bottom line is that, even if you miss the deal, there will always be alternative offers to take advantage of, with some retailers waiting until Cyber Monday to make their best and final reductions.”
Look out for unsecured websites
Ensure the website you’re buying products from has a secure URL, for example, one which starts with ‘https://’, and avoid making purchases on unencrypted or suspicious sites. This will go a long way in helping you protect your personal and financial information.
Don’t give in to pressure
Be aware that scammers often create a sense of urgency by claiming deals are available for a limited time.
Dick recommends not to rush into purchases. “Take your time to research and make informed decisions,” he says.
Lastly, Cutler recommends not being too trusting and be determined to not let the scammers win.
“Keep your eyes open, practise good cyber hygiene and employ a healthy dose of scepticism when seeking out the hot holiday deals this season.”