With November upon us, the holiday shopping season is shifting into high gear. While Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals can save shoppers cash on gifts, they are also an opportunity for scammers who are looking to capitalize in consumers’ interest in shopping online. To help reduce your risk of being their next victim, keep the following safe shopping tips in mind through the end of the year.
Different payment methods have better fraud protections. Due to differences in consumer protection law and the ways that payment methods have been designed, how you choose to pay can determine if you are entitled to a refund in the case of fraud. Credit cards and debit cards have the most protection, with card issuers allowing you to dispute phony charges. Checks, peer-to-peer payment apps, wire transfers, and cash do not have such protections, even if a criminal convinces you send them money via one of those methods.
In this vein, stick with the payment system set up for third-party marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, and Etsy. These platforms often ensure that the seller will deliver your purchase and give you the ability to dispute undelivered or fraudulent goods. There is no reason a seller should ask you to use a different payment method than the ones available on the platform. Avoid those asking for you to pay them in gift cards, with cryptocurrency, or through a peer-to-peer app (like Venmo, Zelle, Cash App, or PayPal).
Be careful of delivery impersonations. One of fraudsters’ popular phishing methods is impersonating delivery companies like USPS, UPS, FedEx, and Amazon. Usually sent in a text message, the scammer will claim that a delivery can’t be completed until you provide more information. While they’re typically looking to steal personal information, these messages may also seek some type of payment peddled as a delivery fee or contain infectious malware.
Given the higher chance that you may actually have a package on the way during the holiday season, it can be difficult to tell which notifications are genuine or not. If you are waiting for a real delivery, go to the shipment confirmation page (either through your email or through the seller’s website) and check if they really do need any further information from you. Don’t click on links from unknown senders or respond to suspicious messages.
Just because your friend shared it on social media doesn’t mean it’s true. Last month, the Federal Trade Commission highlighted social platforms’ role in spreading scams. It’s a real problem for young individuals especially, with nearly half of those aged 18 and 19 reporting that social media was the first point of contact with a fraudster who stole their money. Regardless of age, scammers are trying to reach you on social media through posts of their own, posts that your friends shared, accounts impersonating people you may know, and purchased advertisements. These often include fake products and services that otherwise might be a good gift.
If something seems off, don’t dismiss the alarm bells only because you know the person who shared the content. Links may impersonate genuine websites and businesses, often with only one letter misspelled. Scammers frequently take over the accounts of people you may know or create a new account to mimic a friend. Reach out to the person through text message (or another contact method besides the suspicious account) and check if it is really them making posts or sending messages.
Watch out for cheap fakes. Scammers know it can be tough to find the hottest items at an affordable price. They often advertise popular or sold-out goods, like gaming consoles and smartphones, at unbeatable prices. After they take your money, they’ll ghost you and leave you empty-handed or send you a poor knock-off. If an item is known to be out of stock, you should question how this seller came by their goods. Similarly, if someone is selling items well below the going rate, that warrants extra care as a potential buyer.
A reverse image search of the seller’s pictures could reveal if they swiped the advertised images from somewhere else (a good sign that they’re not genuine). Also check the seller’s account to see if they have a trustworthy history of doing business. If you decide to make a purchase, stick with the marketplace’s payment system and use a credit card so you can dispute the charges if it turns out to be fraudulent.
If you or someone you know has targeted by or been a victim of a fraudulent student loan repayment scam or any other type of fraud, we encourage you to report it via Fraud.org’s complaint system. Complaints filed with Fraud.org are shared with a network of more than 200 law enforcement and consumer protection agency partners who can investigate these crimes.