7 sophisticated shopping scams to watch for this holiday season
This Cyber Monday, U.S. shoppers spent a record $9.4 billion online — $1.5 billion more than last year’s total and an astounding $12 million per minute. Yes, that number is every single minute.
Where there’s money, there are hackers, scammers and thieves. The Internet is more dangerous than ever, and data breaches and attacks are at an all-time high. Don’t be a victim. Tap or click for 4 tips to protect yourself on the web.
In this season of giving, cybercriminals are hard at work scamming honest people out of money and valuable personal data. They’re not just relying on the same old tricks, either. Want a shock? Tap or click to watch as a white-hat hacker shows just how easy it is to fool even the savviest Internet users.
Nothing makes Christmas more of a humbug than an empty wallet and no gifts to show for it. Here are 7 popular, sophisticated scams spreading right now — along with what you need to know to keep your wallet safe.
Cybercriminals are on the lookout for suckers year-round, and they pull absolutely zero punches during the holiday season.
Phishing schemes are commonly found in emails, which disguise their true intentions by pretending to be from trusted sources. For the holidays, the most common schemes take the form of fake Amazon and Apple emails that claim your account has been disabled. They provide a link so you can “reset your password.”
RELATED: Clicking malicious links isn’t the only way to screw up your smartphone. Tap or click for a list of apps you need to delete right now.
Opening these emails and clicking the links will take you to a website that looks like the real thing, but once you enter your username and password, your information is in the hands of hackers.
To stay safe from phishing emails, always check the complete email address of the sender, and never open any links you aren’t 100 percent sure about. Phishing email addresses may contain bits and pieces of real names like Amazon and Apple, but they’re usually much longer and more complex.
To be clear: Apple and Amazon both go through great pains to avoid asking for your information directly. If you’re unsure whether an email is really from a retailer, give the company’s customer service line a call and speak to a real person.
They’ll be able to verify if your account has been accessed without your permission. Keep in mind any phone numbers a phishing email advises you to call are fake too, so use the numbers below:
Apple customer care: 1-800-275-2273
Amazon customer care: 1-888-280-4331
Another scam that makes use of your inbox include shipping notifications, which present themselves as Amazon, UPS or FedEx messages. These emails contain text about an issue with “your order” and how you must verify your identity to save your item from being seized or canceled.
Naturally, these emails are total bunk. None of the major logistic services ever ask for this kind of information, nor will they cancel your order in such a short window of time.
Scammers are banking on the odds that one of their victims will have an in-progress order from one of these companies, and will answer out of fear of losing a critical gift. If you see an email from any of these companies with this kind of text, delete it, move on and whatever you do, don’t click any links inside.
These scams are starting to spread via text message as well. Following any links from an unknown text message poses just as much risk to your privacy. Any strange messages should be promptly deleted and ignored.
If you’re still not sure whether these messages are legitimate, give one of these customer service lines a call to verify. Make sure to have your tracking number and order information handy.
Amazon customer care: 1-888-280-4331
UPS customer care: 1-800-742-5877
FedEx customer care: 1-800-463-3339
Gift cards are more than just useful, last-minute gifts for people on your list. Once a gift card is purchased, the funds are stuck on the card and become virtually untraceable. This is why scammers prefer to have their victims purchase gift cards. Once you buy them, your money is lost forever.
Gift card scams are typically part of other scams, but a common one that rolls around the holiday season involves cybercriminals pretending to be your boss. If you work for a major company, you may see scammers in your inbox pretending to be your CEO or HR manager putting together gifts for a “potluck.”
To bait you, scammers claim you need to purchase a certain amount in gift cards to be given away at a company party. But once the links are followed and the cards are purchased, you never hear back from your “boss” again. Tap or click here to learn about other ways you could be putting your data at risk at work.
To make it completely clear: anyone who asks you to pay for a gift card online is engaging in shady business. It’s an untraceable way to acquire and spend money, and because it’s untraceable, you can’t punish wrongdoers. Avoid this like the plague.
There’s a saying that always applies to the Internet: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” This goes double for coupons and discounts, which are spammed across the web in advertisements, emails and social media profiles.
Another way hackers try to get information is by tricking people into signing up for coupon codes, discounts and sales using “exclusive memberships.” These links will usually lead back to sketchy third-party scam websites that siphon your information faster than you can say, “and to all, a good night!”
To make matters worse, many of these scammers are paying for promoted ads on social media and search engines, which can add an air of legitimacy to the scheme.
Instead of hunting around the dark corners of the web for savings, consider using a trusted app like Honey, which automatically scans and applies coupon codes from verified retailers. Tap or click here to learn more about Honey.
Social media is a breeding ground for scams — especially when anybody can shell out a few dollars to buy ads for fraudulent products. Facebook is ground zero for many of these breaking scams, and you need to pay close attention when any promos or ads seem too good to be true.
The biggest red flag for a scam attack comes in the form of direct messages from Facebook marketplace merchants. When a professional con artist is able to talk with you directly, they can deploy all their social engineering skills to trick you into paying them or giving them information.
Unless the seller is verified with many legitimate reviews, it’s best to avoid talking to them directly, so focus on the merchandise.
Another way to keep yourself safe when shopping on Facebook is to avoid using your real credit card — stick to a safe payment method instead. Tap or click here to learn about PayPal and other safer ways to pay.
Anyone with kids knows how this one goes. Let’s say your child loves action figures, and while browsing on eBay, you find the perfect gift for less than half the retail price. You snap it up, hoping it’ll arrive before Christmas. If it does at all, don’t be surprised if the goods are completely fake.
For mass-produced products like toys and game consoles, major marketplaces like Amazon and eBay are breeding grounds for cheap knockoffs. Many of these sellers get away with their shady business by hiding the fact that they’re replicas or third party deep in the product description.
To stay safe, always check the photos against common stock images. If the same image is found in multiple listings, there’s a good chance it’s phony. Additionally, many of these fraudsters base their operations out of China, where factories pump out knockoffs almost constantly.
When buying from a seller in China, always check the reviews to make sure the seller is legitimate, and keep an eye out for the keywords “replica” or “third party” in the product listing.
Using PayPal to pay will also give you some recourse, so avoid paying with your credit or debit card online if you can help it.
This scam involves many major retailers and merchants both on and offline. For many, this isn’t even so much a scam as it is “business,” but here’s what you need to be aware of when it comes to price inflation.
A common sales tactic is to jack up the prices of goods before a major event like Black Friday, which serves the purpose of making the discounts look bigger than they really are. What’s more, some will even promote the increased prices as deals, which trick many eager shoppers into buying before the real savings start.
If you can help it, resist the temptation to shop before holiday deals go live. Always check the prices against multiple stores, and check if the retailer you’re interested in has a price matching policy that can net you even more savings.
BONUS TIP FOR EXTRA KNOW-HOW: How to check if your iPad has malware
One of the great things about owning an iPad is, unless you’ve jailbroken it, the chance of it becoming infected with a virus is almost zero. There is currently no malware that targets iPads exclusively, so you’re safe from some major issues.
But even if a virus can’t be downloaded to your iPad, threats like malware are still very real. Phishing scams that trick you into providing information can be sent to your iPad as easily as they’re sent to your computer.
There are a few ways to verify you’re not looking at adware or a phishing scam, and they don’t necessitate buying anything. There are also ways to protect your iPad so you avoid these issues altogether and avoid getting malware — even if you’ve jailbroken your tablet.
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Learn about all the latest technology on The Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.