Black Friday: Beware of online shopping scammers

Representational image of a cybercriminal
(Image credit: Pixabay)

Online scams are an everyday thing to keep an eye out for if you spend any amount of time connected to the internet. However, you really need to be aware of online shopping scammers during the Black Friday period when great deals are everywhere, closely followed by cybercriminals. The same goes for Cyber Monday. Combined, the threat of financial fraud and identity theft is vast, which is why it’s essential to enlist the help of cybersecurity tools to stay safe and secure online. 

There’s plenty of software help available for taking on the threat of online shopping scammers thanks to dedicated cybersecurity tools. A password manager, for example, can help you keep all of your passwords in one encrypted location, with only on master log-in needed adding to the appeal. Similarly, enlisting the services of a well-respected virtual protected network, or VPN for short, allows you to stay safe by surfing the web through your own secure connection.

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Why online scams?

The short answer to the growth of online scams during the Black Friday period is opportunity. With so many deals and offers available it gives cybercriminals all manner of options for conning people into giving away their financial information, or stealing their money. In some cases, it’s both. 

Fraudsters are always on the lookout for new ways to procure credit card numbers and then piece together an individual’s profile picture by also securing their email addresses and phone numbers as well as bank account and social security numbers, if they can get hold of them. With all, or even some of the pieces in place cybercriminals can quickly move on to commit crimes, ranging from purchasing things online on your behalf through to stealing your money and, in some cases, your identity too.

What to lookout for

Cybercrime trends come and go, as technology changes to combat emerging threats, but there are numerous fairly consistent techniques to watch out for. A prime example of a tried and trusted cybercriminal technique is the fake order scam. This can appear in the form of an email or text that asks you to double check your order details, or make an amendment to the delivery instructions. There are many variations on the theme, but this is a great way for cybercriminals to purloin some or all of your details.

Similarly, the fake delivery scam, whereby cybercriminals will pretend to be a delivery company or courier will attempt to do much the same thing. Another variation on that is the non-delivery scam, which can involve more attempts to get hold of your personal details and financial information. You should also lookout for gift card scams, where an online store might appear to be offering discounts or sales incentives via spurious links. While the concept can often be genuine, this is a frequent means for cybercriminals to piggyback onto the idea and infiltrate your computer or mobile device with malware.

Depressingly, there is also the fake charity scam to watch out for, which might appear to be legitimate if you receive an email or text, or even visit an online store, where pop-ups frequently occur. More broadly, it’s important to keep an eye out for fake websites, which might incorporate some or indeed all of the techniques above in a bid to outwit you. Black Friday and Cyber Monday only exacerbate the problem, allowing fraudsters all manner of options to carry out their cybercriminal activities.

How to combat scams

Top of your ‘things to do’ list for combating scam attempts should be boosting your software arsenal. If you don't already have it, get yourself a good quality password manager, which can be an enormous help if you have lots of log-in details to handle. People being people means many passwords are quick and easy to guess, so by having a paid-for password manager, you can certainly make life harder for cybercriminals and lock-down sensitive personal information. 

Password managers are available for every kind of computing device, from desktop and laptop computers through to mobile phones and tablets. They allow you to secure all of your passwords in an encrypted vault, with in some cases alerts flagging up any suspicious activity to watch out for, along with providing ongoing protection from new threats. They’re very cost-effective in the way that they provide dynamic protection from a range of security issues.

Boosting your internet security

The other thing to do, or improve if you have it already, is ensure you’ve got a well-respected anti-virus software package. Keeping it up to date is crucial too, so make sure you’ve got a paid-for subscription in place as this should mean any security updates will happen on the go. That means you can nail down any new threats as soon as they happen. 

Top it all off with a VPN, which will create a safe and secure environment for your online activities. Add all these ingredients together and you should have a much safer and more secure online experience. While these practices will combat year-round threats, they’ll prove to be really useful come Black Friday and Cyber Monday-time. With so much to look out for, it’s great having a selection of software solutions that can watch your back, especially if you frequently forget to be as diligent with your personal security as you should be.

Join the dots

Along with enlisting the help of software, it’s also wise not to use unsecured Wi-Fi connections where possible, especially if you’re dipping into free wireless provided in malls, stores or other public areas. Avoid using a debit card where possible too, because spending money online with a credit card allows much more protection and recompense if you are unlucky enough to be scammed by cybercriminals. 

And, if you are the victim of cybercriminals and fraudsters, be as quick as you can to take action. Cut any communication you think you may have established with the fraudsters and contact your card issuer. You’ll want to try and cancel any pending payments as soon as possible and also notify the company you’ve been ordering from. An established and reputable retailer should have procedures and forms in place that let you do this quickly and easily. 

You may also want to contact the authorities and file a report where necessary. Hopefully it might not come to that if you’ve got the right security measures in place, but this could be an option, even if the criminal activity that affects you only appears to be relatively minor. Above all though, it’s always a wise to remember the Latin proverb caveat empor, or buyer beware…

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Rob Clymo

Rob Clymo has been a tech journalist for more years than he can actually remember, having started out in the wacky world of print magazines before discovering the power of the internet. Since he's been all-digital he has run the Innovation channel during a few years at Microsoft as well as turning out regular news, reviews, features and other content for the likes of TechRadar, TechRadar Pro, Tom's Guide, Fit&Well, Gizmodo, Shortlist, Automotive Interiors World, Automotive Testing Technology International, Future of Transportation and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International. In the rare moments he's not working he's usually out and about on one of numerous e-bikes in his collection.