Online Scams

6 Black Friday scams and how to avoid them

Oct. 22, 2021

Black Friday draws millions of holiday shoppers seeking to score deals, compete for hot products, and cross names off their shopping lists.

In 2020, 186.4 million U.S. consumers shopped during the four days after Thanksgiving, from Black Friday to Cyber Monday, according to statistics from the National Retail Federation.

This flurry of shopping activity also attracts scammers looking to cash in. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reports that thousands of U.S. residents fall victim to holiday shopping scams each year. A scammer could take advantage of the season to make off with your gifts, credit card information, or your identity. 

As for new 2021 holiday scams, ongoing supply-chain issues could put some popular items in short supply. It’s smart to be cautious toward online ads showing low-price deals on those hard-to-find items. Expect some 2021 holiday scams to prey on your desire to snag a coveted gift, without making sure the “seller” is legitimate. 

Here are six common Black Friday scams and help on how to do your holiday shopping without becoming a victim.

Scam No. 1: The gift that never arrives 

You’re searching online when you come across the perfect gift at a good price. You go to the site, put the item in your cart, and click the “buy” button. You don’t get a tracking number, the package never arrives, and the seller disappears. You’ve fallen victim to what the FBI calls a “non-delivery scam.”

How to avoid scam No. 1

Stick to reputable retailers. If you’re shopping with a new-to-you merchant, do your due diligence. Check for a physical address, a customer service phone number, and a professional-looking site. Warning signs of sketchy sites include poor spelling, odd design, and slow loading. Only buy from secure sites with SSL encryption, with URLs starting with https (rather than http) and a lock icon in the corner.

What to do if you fall for Scam No. 1

Document your unsuccessful attempts to contact the seller, collect screenshots or other proof of the problems, and ask your credit card company to reverse the charges due to fraud. If you paid with PayPal, an alternative is to open a PayPal dispute. Consider asking your credit card issuer to deactivate your old card and issue you a new one.

Scam No. 2: Seller demanding you pay with a gift card 

You plan to use your favorite credit card to make your Black Friday or Cyber Monday purchases, but a seller asks you to pay with a gift card. This may happen on auction sites and should raise big red flags. Gift cards are “a popular way for scammers to steal money from you,” according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

How to avoid scam No. 2

Use a credit card for your online holiday shopping. By federal law, your liability for fraudulent credit card purchases is capped at $50, and virtually all card issuers offer $0 liability. Treat gift cards like cash, never giving out your gift card number or PIN, and using them only with the issuing merchant. For example, you’d use an IKEA gift card at an IKEA store or Use general gift cards, such as a Mastercard or Visa gift card, only at a trusted retailer.

What to do if you fall for Scam No. 2

Contact the gift card issuer immediately to let them know your gift card was used in a scam. If you act quickly, they may refund you any money left on the gift card. Each major retailer has a way to report gift card scams.

Scam No. 3: Collecting donations for a phony charity 

Scammers may take advantage of the holiday spirit by using heartwarming stories to get donations for fake charities. These scammers know charitable donations as holiday gifts have become especially popular in recent years.

How to avoid scam No. 3

Never make an impulse donation in response to an ad or plea on social media. Take time to research charities using resources that track and rate nonprofits. For example, Charity Navigator offers the option to search for high-rated charities, and has a gift basket feature that lets you donate to multiple charities at once.

What to do if you fall for Scam No. 3

If you’ve been scammed by a fake charity, report the scam. The FBI recommends contacting your state consumer protection division, The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, and the Federal Trade Commission. You probably won’t get your money back, but you may help law enforcement catch the scammer.

Scam No. 4: Message about an item you never ordered 

Criminals may take advantage of Black Friday shopping to put a holiday twist on phishing scams. In this scam, you may get an email or other message telling you there’s an issue with an item you ordered. But you don’t recognize the item and know you never ordered it. The message may be a phishing email meant to trick you into clicking a suspect link, providing your bank login credentials, or turning over other private information to the criminal.

How to avoid scam No. 4

If you get a message about an item you didn’t order, stop and think. The criminal is trying to throw you off balance, hoping you’ll take the requested action because you want to get to the bottom of the situation. If you’re unsure if a message is legitimate, contact the business through other channels that you find on your own, such as chat or their customer service phone number.

What to do if you fall for Scam No. 4

If you do click on a phishing link, take action right away. If you provided login credentials for any site, immediately change your username and password. Pick a unique, hard-to-crack password using at least 12 characters with a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols. Also change your PIN number if necessary. Update your software and run a security scan on your devices to check for malware. Finally, report the scam to the authorities, such as any legitimate business the scammers were impersonating, as well as the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center

Scam No. 5: The sham shopping website 

In another 2021 holiday shopping scam, you think you’re going to the website of your favorite department store to score some Black Friday deals, but you accidentally misspell the name when typing it into your browser bar. You think you’re on the real site, and you make a “purchase.” The scammer steals your credit card information to use or sell and possibly grabs other personal information such as your name and address.

How to avoid scam No. 5

The easiest way to avoid a cloned site is to make sure you’re going to the real site when you want to shop. For example, you could bookmark your favorite shopping sites for easy access. And never visit a retailer clicking by a link in a “deal” email or on social media.

What to do if you fall for Scam No. 5

Immediately change your username and password for the real shopping site since the scammers likely got your login information. If you’ve saved your credit card information on the real site, delete it as a precaution. If you used a credit card to make a purchase on the sham site, report the fraud to your card issuer. They will block the scammer from using your old card number and will issue you a new card with a new number and expiration date.

Scam No. 6: The fake delivery notification 

Many consumers will be doing holiday shopping online this year, and criminals are taking advantage by sending false delivery notifications via email or text message. These notifications may look like they’re coming from the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, or UPS. The scammers are betting you recently bought something online, and Black Friday and Cyber Monday improve their odds. They may mention a problem with delivery and provide a link you can click to “fix the problem.” You may be asked to enter personal information or a credit card number.

How to avoid scam No. 6

Just knowing about this scam is a good start. If you ever get an email or text about a delivery problem, don’t click any links or call any number provided. If you think it may be a legitimate message, look up the company information on your own and contact them directly. If the message was not legitimate, let them know about the scam.

What to do if you fall for Scam No. 6

What to do in this scenario depends on what information, if any, you provided to the scammer. In general, it’s a good idea to follow the same what-to-do steps as you would for Scam No. 4, which is also a phishing scam. You may also want to keep a close eye on your accounts and consider identity theft monitoring, either on your own or through a service.  

The hustle and bustle of the holidays is a gift to cybercriminals. That’s why it’s so important to know how 2021 holiday shopping scams work and to take steps to help keep you, your family, and your property safe this season.

Black Friday shopping: 5 things that could go wrong 

Here’s a quick recap of some of the things that could go wrong when you’re Black Friday shopping.

Meeting an identity thief

The season can bring a bounty for ID thieves, who can grab a consumer's information and use it to make purchases and open new credit cards or other accounts to do their own holiday shopping.

Paying for a gift you never get 

Fraudsters may set up fake websites full of products that don't exist so they can collect payments for goods that they'll never send. They may even provide “excuses” for a while, so by the time you realize you've been had, you're stuck with no gift for someone on your list.

Dealing with shady sellers  

Holiday headaches aren't always created by cybercriminals out to defraud holiday shoppers. Sometimes they can be caused by inferior products that looked better online, slow shipping, and bad customer service from a substandard seller. 

Getting your package stolen

Finally, you might have done almost everything right and still fall victim to a “porch pirate” — someone who swipes packages off porches, especially during the holidays. These modern-day grinches can leave you broke and empty-handed when it comes time to hand out gifts.

Tips on shipping

If you're not going to be home to get your holiday packages, have them sent to your office or to a secure Amazon locker.

Another option is to choose the "ship to store" option and pick up your goods at the retailer's local brick-and-mortar location, if you have one nearby.

Thinking about these scenarios shouldn't spoil your holiday happiness. Knowing what could happen will allow you to avoid these Black Friday shopping pitfalls and ideally have a more joyful season.

Cyber threats have evolved, and so have we.

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