Most holiday shoppers look forward to the steals and deals on Cyber Monday! In recent years, Cyber Monday shopping has outperformed Black Friday deals. Just as shopping online has become more sophisticated, so have the criminals who want to steal your information or scam you out of your hard-earned dollars. According to Aura, an online fraud protection service, 75 percent of Americans experienced some type of online holiday scam last year. During the season of giving, many people fall victim to criminals who try to prey on their emotions or for too good to be true offers. In addition with inflation taking its toll on American households, many are looking for incredible deals on gifts, however, we recommend that you make sure those deals are legitimate.
We offer these tips to avoid holiday scams when you shop online:
Make sure you’re shopping only at reputable stores that are well-known name brands:
We can’t stress enough that you check the URL you are using to shop. Most well-known merchants have taken extra steps to ensure safe shopping online such as encrypted payment systems and password options to create accounts. However, criminals love to use luxury brand names to entice you to shop their links. These items are more than likely fake. For example, if you see designer handbags on Instagram, for prices way below market prices, nine times out of 10 they are fake. The person selling those items only wants your money and information. You probably will never receive the merchandise.
Make sure the charity that you’re donating to is reputable:
As we stated before, online criminals love to prey on people’s emotions, especially during the holiday season. If someone on social media is asking for your donation in a private message or in their status, be sure to do your research on the charity they’re raising money for. Charity Navigator is a great source to use to check to see if the charitable organization is legit. You can even check the charity’s 990 IRS filing to see how much money they spent on administrative costs versus actual services they are raising money for.
Never shop on public WIFI:
You’re sitting in a coffee shop with your computer or phone, and you remember that you need to purchase that last-minute gift, so you open your laptop or phone and start shopping. Experts warn that unless you’re using a Virtual Private Network (VPN), it’s never safe to shop on unsecured WIFI. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) also recommends that you stick to shopping with credit cards and not debit cards. You’re only responsible for $50 of the fraudulent activity on a credit card whereas the opposite is true if you use a debit card; and you could be responsible for covering hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in fraudulent charges.
Name brand phishing emails or text messages with fraudulent links:
Criminals love to mask name-brand sites and send texts or emails that are unsolicited to unaware victims. Many of these emails and texts will claim that you have won a prize and that you need to click a link to claim it. Aura recommends that you never click links in these emails or if you do, check the URL to ensure that it is a legitimate link from the company you know. Most companies require that you “opt-in” to receive texts and emails from their company. Never ever give your name, address, phone or financial information to any company asking for that information over a text or email.
Fake package delivery attempt:
AARP also states that criminals are sending fake emails that packages are being held pending delivery. Most of these emails ask the receiver to click a link to give contact and payment information. You will want to check to make sure when you get these emails that they are taking you to the delivery service and not a site to capture your information for a scam.
Protect your finances:
After you have made a purchase online, check your receipt against your bank account to make sure that the amounts match. Norton suggests that you check your online bank account daily and keep track of the dollar amount of your purchases. If you see any fraudulent activity, report it to your financial institution immediately. Your financial institution will freeze your bank account and debit card by locking them, so that the criminals can’t make any more purchases. You may want to file a police report, especially if you fear that your identity has been stolen.
These are just a few of the tips we’re offering to help you stay safe this holiday season, especially when shopping online.