Whether you’re planning to stand in line to be the first customer at your favorite store on Black Friday or you’re making a list for Cyber Monday online shopping deals, be smart.
Scammers will be at it again this year, using trickery to fool you into handing over your money and private information.
Here’s what you need to know to avoid being a victim.
1. Make sure websites are real
Phony websites come in a few flavors.
Some take a URL that’s very similar to a legitimate retailer but is off by a character or two. Others are an offshoot of the real website’s URL, but use hyphens and additional words, such as gucci-for-less.com or discount-apple-computers.com. Then they steal the logo from the real company and make the site look genuine.
Still others create websites that will show up high in a Google search for a certain product, but when you click, it’s not a real retailer. Still, the site will gladly take your order, but you’ll never see the items you thought you’d be able to put under the tree.
The goal of these sites is to collect your credit card and other private information. Once they have it, they may open loans or file fake tax returns in your name or otherwise steal your identity — basically wreak havoc on your credit life.
You might think you’re a careful shopper, but if you’re in a rush or desperate to get this year’s hottest toy or another item, you might make a mistake.
To avoid the fakes, start by taking your time. Look carefully at the web address of any link you click. If you’re not sure, before you enter any private information, look around on the site. Try to find phone numbers for customer service and street addresses for the company. If you only see email addresses or P.O. boxes, use caution.
Also double check any email addresses you find on the site. If they use Gmail, Yahoo or another email service instead of a domain of the actual business, there’s a good chance it’s not real.
And if you’re not sure, don’t click.
2. Watch out for fake coupons
Fake coupons come around all year long, but they’re especially popular during the holidays. You might see these on social media or they may turn up in your inbox. The scammers will lure you in by offering a discount code or free shipping, but what the scammers really want is your personal information. If you click, the site may tell you to enter your information and sign up for its mailing list in order to receive the deal. Or you could end up inadvertently downloading malware instead of a coupon.
Don’t do it.
If you see a coupon offer — especially if it comes up on social media — be wary.
Just like in our fake website warning above, check the URL to see if it seems to be authentic.
3. Fake store apps on the rise
More and more shoppers use apps to stay in touch with their favorite retailers and to receive discount coupons. Con artists are trying to get in on the trend. Some create fake apps, impersonating the real thing, to try to steal your private information by infecting your phone.
Don’t download an app from an email or social media come-on. Instead, use the Apple Store or Google Play, but don’t click on the first app you see. Any scammer can steal the logo of a real store to make their app look authentic. Carefully read the app description and look for type-os, then check the app’s reviews. Look around and take your time to be sure you’re downloading the real thing.
4. Shipping scam emails
If you order online, it’s common for a retailer to tell you when an order has shipped. It often offers a link to track your package, something that comes in handy if you need to make sure your presents will arrive in time.
It’s easier to avoid this scam other times of the year because you’re not waiting for lots of packages to arrive, but for the holidays, it can get tricky.
One common scam comes in the form of an email that says a shipping service is having trouble delivering your package. It will offer a link with more information, but when you get there, you could download malware onto your computer. Or worse, you could get tricked into entering your personal information.
Just delete the email. If you’re waiting for a real package that didn’t arrive when it should have, go directly to the retailer’s website or call customer service.