(TargetLiberty.org) – With Black Friday right around the corner, many Americans are gearing up to shop ‘til they drop while they try to grab pre-holiday deals. Retailers host sales and often discount products so steeply, it ultimately turns shopping into a competitive sport. Yet, the holiday shopping season also ushers in a darker and more sinister threat: criminals who seek to profit off the excitement by running complex scams. Here’s how to stay safe.
Beware Online Shopping and Emails
Ordering products online can be a great way to score a hot deal. Yet, it often requires that you hand over an overwhelming amount of sensitive data, including your credit card number. Fraudsters profit from this by crafting fake websites, social media pages, and even emails that fool you into thinking you’re dealing with an authentic brand.
Ultimately, these scammers don’t have any legitimate products to sell — they just masquerade as legitimate companies in order to just “phish” (pronounced “fish”) for your information.
How to Avoid Online Scams
First, check the site URL (locator address) at the top of your address bar before giving a site your money. Legitimate URLs will typically contain the business name (e.g., www.Acme.com) versus some random combination of half-words or letters (e.g., (www.Ama-Zon-Shop-ing.biz).
You can also try checking for SSL encryption. Look for a tiny lock icon to the left of the URL in your address bar. Click it to determine whether the site is secure.
Be especially wary of emails that ask for personal information. Scammers often hook people by sending out official-looking fake emails. These may appear convincing at first but often contain red flags, such as low-quality graphics, bad grammar, misspellings or links to shady-looking sites. Odd email sending addresses (e.g., [email protected] vs. [email protected]) are also a cause for concern.
Close the email without clicking on any links, navigate to the site in question yourself, and reach out to their support department directly — preferably by telephone, if you can.
Beware of Charity Scams
Charity scams are also prevalent around this time of year. Fraudsters take advantage of the generosity and holiday spirit of giving, using it to convince people to hand over their cold, hard cash for a “good cause.” The money ends up lining the scammer’s pocket.
How to Avoid Fake Charity Fundraisers
First, research any charity or cause before you decide to hand over your cash. Doing your due diligence ahead of time can give you a better idea of what the organization does and how they use their donations. If you can’t find any information on the charity, it might not be real.
Also, be skeptical of telephone calls that request donations over the phone. While some organizations do run cold call campaigns, a legitimate non-profit won’t push you to pay them if you aren’t comfortable handing over your information. You can always hang up, research its name, and reach out directly to provide support.
Beware Online Credit Card Skimming
Traditionally, savvy criminals installed credit card skimmers to in-person ATMs and debit machines in an effort to harvest sensitive financial data sight unseen. That risk remains ever-present but now applies to purchases you make in the online sphere, too. Black hat coders can inject malicious scripts into legitimate retailer websites that steal your payment info the moment you make a purchase.
How to Avoid Credit Card Skimmers
Unfortunately, this scam is a little bit more challenging to avoid. Sites infiltrated by credit skimmers don’t always showcase any red flags, although they may look or feel slightly “off.” There have even been cases in the past where major retailers, such as NutriBullet and Tupperware, were completely unaware for several days their sites contained the vulnerability.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to stay safe. Experts recommend using third-party payment platforms, such as Apple Pay or Paypal, as these provide an extra layer of protection by hiding your credit card from sellers. You should also keep a close eye on your credit accounts for suspicious or unusual charges.
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