Ready to go online to hunt for bargain-priced smartphones, laptops, action figures, and shoes this Black Friday and Cyber Monday? You wouldn't be alone. These consumer holidays have become big business, with Adobe Analytics reporting that in 2022 consumers spent $9.12 billion online on Black Friday and another $11.3 billion on Cyber Monday.
That $11.3 billion is the most that consumers have ever spent on Cyber Monday and was 5.8% higher than what they spent on the same shopping day in 2021.
But while the online shoppers will be out in force for these two big shopping days, so will the scammers. Cybercriminals have grown to love Black Friday and Cyber Monday, too. So much money is being spent on these days, and consumers are so eager to find big sales, you can bet that cybercriminals are already planning their scams to trick 2023's holiday shoppers.
Many will trick consumers into giving up their financial and personal information, something that could let criminals steal their identities, run up charges on their credit cards, and siphon dollars out of their checking accounts. Others will try to get eager shoppers to click on malicious email links that flood the computers of victims with spyware and malware.
Still others will trick consumers into installing browser extensions that instead of alerting consumers to deals will infect their computers with malicious software.
Fortunately, you can avoid the most common Black Friday and Cyber Monday scams. It’s all about identifying the warning signs of a scam and relying on your common sense.
Here are our tips for the scams to watch out for this holiday shopping season.
Scam 1: Your order didn’t go through
Don’t be surprised to see emails or texts supposedly from major retailers warning you that your purchase of a laptop or flat-screen TV didn’t go through. And don’t be surprised if the message asks you to click a link where you can provide updated payment information to rectify the problem.
The email or text might even state that if you don’t immediately provide your current credit card or bank account information, the retailer will have to cancel your order.
Is this legit? No. This is a common phishing attempt, an attempt by scammers to get you to provide them with key financial information, such as your bank account or credit card numbers. Once you provide this information, the scammers could use it to make fraudulent purchases with your credit cards or make online purchases using the funds in your bank account.
How to avoid this scam: Never click on a link from any individual or company requesting your financial information. Legitimate retailers won’t ask for bank account or credit card numbers through a text or email. Instead, delete the message immediately.
And if you’re worried that the message might be legitimate and that your Black Friday or Cyber Monday order might be held up? Contact the retailer directly through its customer service number.
Scam 2: The fake delivery notification
Ever receive a text or email supposedly from FedEx or UPS stating that your order is ready to be delivered, but you must first click on a link to provide additional information? It’s probably a scam.
If you click on the link provided in the text or email, you’ll be taken to a website that requests such personal information as your address, credit card number, or even your Social Security number. Again, if you provide this information, you’re simply giving scammers the tools they’ll need to access your credit card account or steal your information.
Be especially protective of your Social Security number. If scammers get this number, they can easily steal your identity, which allows them to take out loans or apply for credit cards in your name. They might even sell your Social Security number on the Dark Web.
How to avoid this scam: Again, never click on links in texts or emails sent from someone you don’t know. And if you do click on a link and you’re taken to a page that requests your personal or financial information? Close that web page and delete the email or text.
And never, ever provide your Social Security number. No legitimate delivery service, including FedEx, UPS, or the United States Postal Service, will ask for this number through email or a text.
Keep track, too, of the online orders you make. You might not have any orders out for delivery. If so, you’ll instantly know that the text or email supposedly from FedEx is a scam. And if the text or email is deliberately vague, not stating what you ordered? That’s another sign of a scam.
Scam 3: You must pay with a gift card
Ever spend hours searching online for that in-demand video game console, toy, or shoe to complete your holiday shopping list? Finally, you find an online merchant that not only has this otherwise impossible-to-find gift in stock, but at a bargain price, too.
The only catch? The merchant requests that you pay with an Amazon, Visa, or Mastercard gift card. All you need to do is send in the account number and pin from the card.
But after you do this, your purchase never shows up. And when you reach out to the online retailer, you get no response. Your emails might even bounce back. Even the online store where you bought the gift has disappeared.
Yes, you’ve been scammed.
How to avoid this scam: Never pay for anything online with a gift card. Treat these cards as if they were cash: If you send your card’s account numbers to a scammer, there’s no way you’ll get your money back. No legitimate retailer will ask that you pay with a gift card. If you stumble across one that does, you’re dealing with a scammer.
Be careful, too, when dealing with online retailers that you’ve never heard of. These are often scammers. And if you find a particularly popular item that’s sold out everywhere else? Be leery when you find it online from a suspicious-looking retailer.
Scam 4: You bought from a fake retailer
It takes some work on the part of cybercriminals, but the fake retail website scam is an effective way for crooks to steal your financial information.
You might find a website that looks almost exactly like the home page of Best Buy, Nike, Lands’ End, or another popular retailer. The site is even offering apparel, electronics, shoes, and gifts for discount prices.
Be careful: You might be dealing with a fake retail site.
Scammers during the holiday shopping season set up fake websites that mimic the pages run by legitimate retailers. The goal is to get you to enter your credit card or personal information when making an “order.” The criminals behind the site then gain your key financial information, which they can use to run up fraudulent purchases on your credit cards, steal your identity or sell on the Dark Web.
How to avoid this scam: You’ll have to be careful to avoid falling for the fake store website scam. Cybercriminals have gotten more sophisticated in creating pages that expertly mimic the real sites run by retailers.
Pay close attention to the page’s URL. If the URL is anything other than the name of the company, plus “.com,” you might be dealing with a fake website. Be aware, too, of products that are retailing for far less than what they are in stores or on other sites. Artificially low prices are another sign of a scam.
Finally, be wary if a retail website asks you to pay in an unusual way, like with gift cards or by wire transfer. Legitimate retailers will never ask you to pay by Zelle or other difficult-to-trace methods.
Scam 5: You need this browser extension to save money
Checking off the items that fill your holiday shopping list can be expensive. It’s why so many online shoppers turn to browser extensions that can help them find coupons and discounts on electronics, apparel, luggage, beauty supplies, and other products.
By installing the legitimate versions of these extensions–products such as Capital One Shopping and PayPal Honey–you’ll automatically be offered coupons and price reductions on qualifying items as you shop. It’s an easy way to save money, especially during busy online shopping days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, when sales are more prevalent.
Scammers, though, are aware that consumers turn to these extensions when browsing. It’s not unusual, then, to find ads for fake browser extensions in your email box. You might also stumble across pop-up ads prompting you to download a browser extension that promises to save you big money when online shopping.
When you install one of these fake browser extensions, it fills your computer with spyware and malware. The scammers behind these extensions might even be able to track your keystrokes and take control of your computer.
Be careful, too, when shopping in online stores for browser extensions. Scam extensions sometimes slip through.
How to avoid this scam: Before installing any browser extension, do your research. Make sure you recognize the name of the extension, and if it’s not one of the big, well-known extensions, don’t download it. If you’re unsure if an extension is legitimate, do an online search. You might find that the extension being touted or fill your machine with malware.
The bottom line
You can nab discounts from major retailers on both Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But don’t forget that criminals are shopping these days, too, hoping to steal your money, hijack your credit card accounts, and trick you into surrendering your personal and financial information. By recognizing the most common of these shopping holiday scams, you can protect yourself from these scammers.