Feb 20, 2024

Scam Prevention Tips for Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Black Friday Sign

Black Friday, which is the day after Thanksgiving, and Cyber Monday, following this weekend, feature a ton of great deals for consumers, but they are also a boon for scammers looking to prey on a public who is eager to spend. Even for a savvy shopper, it can be hard to tell a figurative steal from actual cybertheft.

Here are some popular Black Friday and Cyber Monday scams to be aware of, as well as some prevention tips.

What Are Some Common Black Friday and Cyber Monday Scams?

  • Phishing scams, in which a fraudster sends an email with a link asking for your credit card number and other personal information. Often these emails will appear to come from a retailer or store offering an amazing discount or promising something free.
  • Fraudulent delivery updates are a popular form of phishing scams that sometimes arrive via text message instead of email, lending them a veneer of legitimacy.
  • Malvertisements (malware advertisements) are malicious pop-up and display ads that, like phishing scams, entice consumers to click on links that will not end well. Some try to glean your credit card info, others may infect your computer with malware and then demand a ransom to fix the problem.
  • Malicious apps are fraudulent deal-finding apps that are actually loaded with malware. A RiskIQ study found that 5% (1 in 20) of the more than 4,000 apps that resulted from a “Black Friday” search were malicious.
  • Gift card scams occur when someone writes down the number and PIN on an in-store gift card and then covers the PIN back up using tape. (There are also ways to digitally acquire these numbers.) They drain the funds, and someone buys the gift card not realizing it’s empty.
  • E-skimmers are similar to ATM skimmers in that they scan your debit or credit card number as you enter it, but in this case, it’s when you’re checking out online (as opposed to making an ATM withdrawal). From August to October 2018, RiskIQ detected nearly 270,000 instances of e-skimming by a skimmer called Magecart.

What Red Flags Should I Watch Out for While Black Friday Shopping?

  • Any deal or sale that requires you to install software. Most retailers want to remove barriers to online shopping, so they don’t ask you to install anything. As a general rule, sales exist on a retailer’s website or in their store — not on some third-party app or software you’ve never heard of.
  • Third party ads (even on sites or apps you trust). Just because you’re on a site or app you trust doesn’t mean that you can also trust its display or banner ads. Often the host has nothing to do with these ads, so don’t assume that they’re safe to click or that the deals they’re pushing are legitimate.
  • Gift cards that have been tampered with. Before you buy a gift card, make sure it hasn’t had the PIN covering scratched off and covered back up. If so, it likely has already been spent (or will be soon). Cards kept behind or near the cash register are a safer bet.
  • Freebies and other unbelievably good deals. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. An expensive, high-quality product is probably not going to be 80% or 90% off — especially if the deal is coming from a third party site and not the retailer itself.

How Can I Protect My Personal Information?

  • Don’t click links unless you’re absolutely sure they are safe. If an email or ad is advertising a product you want, go to the retailer’s site and search for it. If a text is telling you to track a package, go directly to the shipping site and enter your tracking number. Cut out the middleman, who may or may not be trustworthy.
  • Don’t open or download attachments. Have you ever gotten a great deal or received tracking info via attachment? Probably not.
  • Hover over hyperlinks and URLs to see where they lead. Again, the safest way to visit a retailer’s site is not to click a link but go straight to the site yourself.
  • Diversify and update your passwords. This applies year-round, not just at Thanksgiving time. Now that data breaches are a weekly occurrence, your passwords are less secure than ever.
  • Use two-step authentication. See above.
  • Monitor your credit card activity. This way, if you do fall victim to a scam or data breach, you can find out right away and take immediate steps to remedy the situation.

To be sure, there are deals to be had on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but a little common sense and being aware of the above tactics will go a long way toward avoiding scams. Caveat emptor, or “Let the buyer beware,” has never been more crucial.