Tis the Season for Fakes, Knockoffs and Rip-offs

December 7, 2011

Looking for a great deal on hot, name brand items this holiday season may be slightly safer after the federal government seized 150 internet domain names during a targeted crackdown on counterfeit goods, but letting your guard down would be a real mistake.

Cheap fakes are usually easy to spot and hard for crooks to get a lot of cash for, but sophisticated counterfeit high end goods can often pass as legitimate, allowing scammers to command the same prices as the real items and making it a lucrative business for criminals.

Counterfeit goods may be dangerous to your health; whether the knockoffs are shoes or electronics, how those materials were handled, what they were treated with, and whether they were tested may pose serious risks to your health – or the health of your gift recipient.

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton, “Not only is this is a direct threat to American innovation … but it’s also a public safety issue.”

Not only is your health at risk, and the financial health of the legitimate companies whose products are being counterfeited, it’s important to understand that criminals reinvest their profits to bankroll more crime. Your purchase may be funding your upcoming identity theft.

The government said it is unclear how much money criminals have made from counterfeiting, but since the crackdown on counterfeit sellers started last year, internet users have gone to the seized domains more than 77 million times.

Asked about the commercial value, Morton said, “Typically we don’t track the volumes of sales of these particular sites, [but] it is very large figures. Well, well above millions.”

Top 10 Counterfeit Products

Take particular care when shopping for any of the top 10 counterfeit items, which according to The National White Collar Crime Center are:

  1. Footwear – 2010 Domestic Seizure Value: $45.75 million
  2. Consumer Electronics – 2010 Domestic Seizure Value: $33.59 million
  3. Clothing – 2010 Domestic Seizure Value: $18.68 million
  4. Handbags/ Wallets/ Backpacks – 2010 Domestic Seizure Value: $15.42 million
  5. Music/ Movies/ Software – 2010 Domestic Seizure Value: $12.68 million
  6. Computers & Hardware – 2010 Domestic Seizure Value: $9.5 million
  7. Cigarettes – 2010 Domestic Seizure Value: $8.85 million
  8. Watches & Parts – 2010 Domestic Seizure Value: $7.85 million
  9. Jewelry – 2010 Domestic Seizure Value: $6.76 million
  10. Prescription Drugs – 2010 Domestic Seizure Value: $5.66 million

To better protect yourself, from fakes, scams, and thieves, see my blogs 6 Steps to Avoiding Black Friday Scams, Cyber Monday Sales Skyrocket – Now Watch Those Credit Card Statements.



Consumers Suspicious of Sharing Personal Data with Companies

October 20, 2011

A whopping 88% of U.S. and Canadian consumers say they believe companies are primarily collecting personal information for their own benefit, nearly that many (85%) are often concerned about how much of their information is being held by others, and 74% don’t believe they benefit from sharing information according to an October 2011 survey from LoyaltyOne.

And even though 52% of survey respondents said they believe their information is being used to provide better service, only 9% strongly agree that this is the case.

This represents a very healthy skepticism on the part of consumers and shows that between the spread of internet safety messaging, and being burned by companies, has shifted the perception of average citizens towards sharing information. According to the survey, nearly one in three (32%) consumers has been notified their personal information was stolen or compromised.

Expectations for benefits are low

The survey also found that less than half believe that sharing their personal information will give them benefits like receiving tailored offers, advanced information, communications targeting their interests, easier purchasing processes, and preferred treatment or product improvements.

Companies beware

It would seem that consumers are tiring of the constant request for personal information by companies. Nearly a quarter of surveyed users (23%) say they have chosen against making a purchase due to uncertainty over how a company would use their personal information, and this percentage jumps to 30% of respondents who have received notification of a data breach and to 37% among respondents who have actually been negatively affected by a data compromise.

What consumers are doing to avoid information exposure

To limit the amount of information shared when general respondents do make a purchase, 41% say they pay with cash – this behavior jumps to 52% among those compromised by a data breach. 43% (jumps to 55%) say they refuse to provide a salesperson with their information, and 12% (jumps to 25%) say they have canceled memberships or opted out of loyalty programs.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the survey asked about another common method for refusing to provide personal information – many people simply fake information in any field that’s not tied to billing or their address (hard to get the goods if you fake these). It would have been interesting to learn how many users go this route as I suspect the percentage is fairly high.

The data presented through this survey presents a very compelling argument for companies to provide real benefits in exchange for information, quit asking for information they don’t absolutely need, and to better protect information from data breaches. We’ll see if they take heed, but I’m not holding my breath.


Felt Spammed by Retailers in the Two Months before Christmas? You’re Right.

January 22, 2011

Major online retailers in the US sent 4.6 email promotions to each of their customers in just one week in the lead up to Christmas last year according to Chad White, research director at Responsys and author of the Retail Email Blog.  In the 8 weeks leading up to Christmas, these companies averaged just over 4 emails sent to each customer each week.

If you’re like me, you had half a dozen or more stores each spamming you with 32 emails over the two month period.

And, if you’re like me, it was a real irritant to have to clear so much junk out of your inbox.

I actually got to the point that I began ‘unsubscribing’ to every site that sent more than one email per week, as the only means of reducing the ‘noise’.

After the Holiday rush, I’ve complained to the retailers that hounded me and let them know it is rude to spam good customers. If the spam bothered you too, lend your voice and be heard. With any luck the message will sink in before the run up to the 2011holiday season and we’ll all have one more thing to be grateful for.


Use of Mobile Banking Increases – Are You Protected?

November 30, 2010

Consumers have become more confident about using their mobile phones for banking transactions according to new research from The Nielsen Company. This trend is also outlined in a recent white paper from Juniper Research that projects the number of worldwide mobile phone users who perform mobile banking will double from 200 million this year to 400 million in 2013. In the U.S., it is the more affluent consumers who are leading the charge, but in the rest of the world, it’s far more likely to be the norm for all users.

For consumers, the appeal of mobile banking is clear; it’s convenient, and empowers us through real-time balance checks and transfers of funds, and provides a more consistent banking experience. However, with all these benefits come risks that every mobile user of financial services should be aware of, and take precautions against.

The risks are pretty straightforward: crooks want your cash and/or your credit – and they’re willing to go to some work to try collecting the information they need to steal it.

Ask yourself three questions before transacting through your phone:

  • Is your phone secure? As more consumers use smart phones, and a few key market leaders emerge, malware targeting phones will continue to increase. Be sure you have up-to-date security software, which means antivirus and anti-spyware protection installed.
  • Do you have a secure password/PIN? Every phone should have a password lock to prevent others from using it. However, if you have any sensitive information stored on your phone, you need to be particularly diligent in ensuring your phone’s password is strong.  See my blog Safe passwords don’t have to be hard to create; just hard to guess. Then, don’t share your password with anyone or respond to any e-mail requesting that information.
  • Is your connection secure? If you are surfing over your phone carrier’s network, you are quite safe, however, if you are using WiFi to connect, be sure you know and trust the WiFi connection. Do Not use a public WiFi for financial transactions. See my blog Like Lambs to the Slaughter? Firesheep Lets Anyone be a Hacker

If you’ve successfully answered all of the above then you’re off to a good start. The bottom line: Before you conduct your most sensitive financial transactions you need to be absolutely certain both the Internet connection and the mobile device or computer you’re using is secure. If you don’t have 100 percent confidence – don’t take the chance.