With the holiday season comes a spike in online shopping. Although it’s convenient to purchase gifts online, it can be a bit risky if you’re not careful. Reports of identity theft and credit card fraud see a significant uptick this time of year because hackers know this is prime time to prey on unsuspecting online shoppers. You shouldn’t be scared to shop online, but you should be aware of the common online shopping scams and ensure you’re taking the necessary steps to protect yourself from online threats.
Here are five of the most common online shopping scams going around this year along with tips on how you can protect yourself from them.
1. Discounted gift cards
73 percent of consumers say they will purchase a gift card this season. That means there are a lot of shoppers out there looking for gift cards for their friends and family. Unfortunately, scammers have caught on to consumers’ desire to find discounted gift cards this time of year.
Most discounted gift card offers that come directly from retailers are legitimate, but online shoppers should still be wary of scammers who use fake promotions of gift cards to steal from unsuspecting buyers.
One of the best ways to determine whether or not a gift card offer is real or fake is to look to see if it asks for banking information. Official retailers and banks will not ask for this information. If you notice that an offer is asking for too much information, delete the email immediately. If it doesn’t ask for banking information, it’s probably safe, but it would still be a good idea to look up the offer or call the retailer to be sure the offer is real.
2. Suspicious links in emails
Email marketing has become one of the many popular ways retailers reach consumers with special offers and deals during the holiday season. Like gift card offers, most of the emails you receive from retailers this season will be the real deal. However, there will still be some sketchy emails you should look out for in your inbox to avoid being scammed.
If you get an offer from a site you don’t recognize, don’t click the link offer. Scammers are now using malicious links in fake shopping emails to send users to pages that ask for personal information for identity theft. These pages can also be used by online thieves to install ransomware on your device.
If a suspicious email offer really sounds like something you’d be interested in, search the offer in Google and see if anything comes up. If it’s an actual deal from a legitimate company, you’ll likely be able to find the offer somewhere else online. If it’s not, you’ll probably find a result or two that indicates it’s a scam. You could also try looking up the sender or calling a customer service number to figure out whether or not the company is legitimate.
3. Fake coupon sites
A habitual shopper will likely be searching for coupon codes before checking out from an online store. Coupon codes are an awesome way to save a little money online, but the way you obtain them could lead to trouble if you seek out deals from the wrong sources.
Lots of sites will claim to offer you free coupons once you’ve filled out a “quick survey.” This seems harmless enough, but the survey landing pages are often designed to gather personal information from you or install malware on your device.
To avoid coupon scams, run a Facebook search for the name of the site that lists the coupon you’re interested in to see whether or not it is a verified page. If you don’t see a check mark by the site’s name on its Facebook page, it is not authorized and could be sketchy. The check mark will either be blue or gray depending on how it is viewed by Facebook’s verification standards, but both colors show that it is an authentic page.
You should also take a look at the URL structure for the link where the coupon links you to. If it indicates you will be going to a page on another site or perhaps a survey page on the same site, the coupon is likely invalid. Finally, take a moment to give yourself a reality check. If the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. For example, 75% off at Best Buy from an unaffiliated and slightly sketchy coupon site is probably too good to be true.
4. Shopping account hacks
Thieves are constantly working to find new ways to hack the systems of major retailers to get your payment information. Although it is impossible to control how secure a given retailer’s payment system is, there are several steps you can take to protect as much of your information as possible in the event of a hack.
To make it harder for thieves to get a hold of your information, use a different username and password for each account you set up with an online retailer. It’s also a smart idea to use a different email account for online shopping, so you can keep your banking and other financial logins as far separated from social media and shopping accounts as possible.
Another smart way to keep your personal finance information safe is to use a prepaid card for your online purchases this season instead of using your personal debit or credit cards. This will help you keep those numbers out of the wrong hands.
5. Malware website reroutes
Another way savvy scammers are out to get unsuspecting shoppers is through malicious pages that install rerouting malware on your device. Typically, you’ll encounter these through bad links sent to you through email or text or when you accidentally type in the wrong URL while trying to visit a specific site. Once you’ve visited one of these pages, it will install malware that reroutes you to fake sites when you’re trying to go to legitimate sites like your online banking site or a specific retailer.
The best way to protect yourself from this kind of hack is to run Malware Bytes on your computer on a consistent basis. This service will help you stop and delete malware and spyware from your device. The next step is to keep your browser updated, and steer clear of Internet Explorer since it is more vulnerable to these attacks. You should also keep an eye out for anything that looks strange on the websites you visit regularly. Fake sites will typically be much lower quality than real sites and have strange copy or glitches that you don’t tend to see on real sites for financial institutions or major retailers.
Staying safe online can be difficult when online thieves continue to get savvier and sneakier about the ways they prey on consumers. Fortunately, the above tips can protect you from online shopping scams. Here are more online shopping tips you can use to protect yourself.
Image credit: Hands holding credit card and using laptop by DepositPhotos
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