There's no better time to score a great deal than during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales, but it's also prime time for the scam artists who've become increasingly adept at scoring personal data and credit card information via a variety of sophisticated techniques. And if you think you can't be outwitted by these nasty characters, think again.
"Anyone can become a victim of an online scam, especially during the holiday season when they're rushed and not paying attention to red flags," said Denise Bouchard, Hanscom Federal Credit Union's information security officer. "It's important to slow down, to take a moment and think, 'Is what I'm reading here making sense or does something about this not seem right?'"
So what kind of red flags should you watch out for this weekend?
- A deal that sounds too good to be true. Buy one iPad, get another for free? Bouchard points out that Apple products typically don't get discounted this way, so don't be fooled when you open an email offer like this...you're most likely going to lose your money on this "deal."
- Things aren't quite adding up. You're at work and you get an email from Amazon.com telling you your recent order has some issues...except you didn't order from Amazon.com from your work address. "Some people will just go ahead and click anyway when they see Amazon.com, which is exactly what phishers and scam artists count on you doing," said Bouchard. "These people end up exposing themselves and their personal information to someone that's not from Amazon.com, all because they weren't paying attention or not listening to the voice in their head that told them something was off."
- Shopping from a smart phone. According to marketing research from Criteo, over 40% of all sales in November and December 2017 were made from mobile phones and that percentage is expected to be even higher this year. Unfortunately, due to the shorter address field on smartphones, consumers can't always see a full URL on their phones, making it harder to spot scam URLs. Bouchard's solution is to try to do your shopping from a desktop or laptop computer and to make sure the website where you do your shopping is secure. You'll be able to tell by looking at the URL; it'll start with HTTPS instead of just HTTP. You'll also see an icon of a locked padlock, typically to the left of the URL, although that can vary between browsers. If you must shop from a smartphone, shop through the retailers' own apps and if you shop through a browser, type in the address yourself instead of clicking on a link provided to you.
- Apps that promote holiday deals. Scammers have been busy developing "apps" that purport to save you money on your holiday gift buying, but really all they've been doing is creating tools to steal your credit card details or deliver malware to your smartphone. According to a recent report from RiskIQ, a cybersecurity company, 5.5% of just over 4,300 Black Friday-related apps are malicious and unsafe, and 4.6% of Cyber Monday apps are also malicious. Even Apple's App Store and Google Play have hosted bad apps, so tread cautiously before downloading anything that looks remotely questionable. Avoid third-party app stores, verify that the app developer's name is correct and reputable, and read user reviews.
Over the next few weeks, keep checking your credit card and financial statements for any suspicious activity and if you notice anything, contact your financial institutions immediately. At Hanscom FCU, you can even activate alerts on your credit cards and checking account by logging into Online Access HD, going to your settings, and selecting Alerts.
Here are some links to more information that'll help you shop safely on Black Friday/Cyber Monday:
- Shopping Safely Online from the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center
- Preventing and Responding to Identity Theft from the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center
- How to Protect Your Computer From Malware
- Four Ways We Keep Your Online Access Secure
- Avoid Identity Theft: Secure Your Belongings in Public