6 Steps to Avoiding Black Friday Scams

November 21, 2011

The onslaught of holiday advertisements is in full swing, flooding mailboxes, inboxes, TV, websites, and mobile phones, and these ads will continue increasing until all last minute shopping has been done as retailers try to squeeze out every possible dollar in holiday revenue. And then there will be the after-holiday sales…

Chances are you will be among the 90% of consumers who say they expect to shop for gifts online this year, a 1% increase over last year. You might even be among the 15% who are expected to purchase gifts through a mobile device [i].  In fact, 60% of smartphone or tablet owners plan to use their device for a range of holiday shopping purposes this year, according to a new report by Prosper Mobile Insights.

This report indicates that among respondents saying they will use their mobile device for shopping this season, 60% expect to use their device as a “mobile mall,” with 56.7% primarily using their device to plan and research purchases, and one-third will use them to make at least 50% of their holiday purchases.

Whether you are shopping for others or for yourself, knowing how to get a great deal takes a lot more than just looking at the price tag.

Fortunately, learning 6 basic precautions will turn you into a savvy and much safer online shopper.

  1. Start with a secure internet environment. If your computer, tablet or cell phone isn’t protected from viruses and other malware your financial information and passwords will be stolen as you make purchases (as will everything else you store on your computer or do online). This concept is so basic, yet far less than half of the US population adequately protects their computers – and only 4% have security protection on their tablets or smartphones[ii].
    1. You must have anti-virus and anti-spyware software installed and up-to-date. If your computer or phone isn’t protected from Trojans, viruses and other malware, your financial information, passwords and identity will be stolen. If the cost of security software is prohibitive, at least use one of the free services available – just search on ‘best free antivirus’, and ‘best free mobile antivirus’ to see your options. If you don’t think you need mobile security software consider this; BullGuard security identified 2,500 different types of mobile malware in 2010[iii].
    2. Secure your internet connection. Make sure your computer’s firewall is on. If you use a wireless network it needs to be encrypted so someone who is lurking outside the house can’t collect your information. If you need a free firewall, search for ‘best free firewall’. Never use a public WiFi service for any type of financial transaction or other type of sensitive information transfer.
  2. Identify trustworthy companies. You need to either know the company – or know their reputation.
    1. If you already know the store, shopping their online store is very safe. If there’s a problem you can always walk into the local store for help. If you already know the online store’s reputation you will also be very safe.
    2. If you don’t know the store, it may still be the best option; you just need to take a few more steps. Search online for reviews from other users to see what their experiences were with the company, and conduct a background check by looking at sites that review e-stores (for example, Epinions, BizRate, Better Business Bureau). If the store isn’t listed as a legitimate site by one of these sources, or the store has a lot of negative reviews, DON’T SHOP THERE. It’s that easy.
  3. Know how to avoid scams. The holiday season is primetime for email and web scammers because they know millions of people will be spending billions of dollars online. To give you a sense of just how much money changes hands, last December (2010), $32.6 Billion dollars were spent on internet shopping sites[iv].  The best way to avoid scams is simple. NEVER, ever, click on a link in an email or on website advertisement no matter how reputable the host website or email sender may be. The website ad or email may be a really good fake, or the website or email account may have been hijacked by spammers. Instead, use a search engine and find the deal or store yourself – if you can’t find the deal on the legitimate store’s site you know that ‘offer’ was a scam. Click here to learn more about identifying scams.
  4. Protect personal information. Many ecommerce and mobile commerce sites encourage you to create a user account, but unless you truly plan to shop there often you’ll be better off not doing so. If you do choose to create a profile, do not let the store keep your financial information on file. All you really need to purchase something should be your name, mailing address, and your payment information.
    1. If the merchant asks for more information – like your bank account, social security, or driver’s license numbers, NEVER provide these. Some reputable companies will ask additional questions about your interests, but these should always be optional and you should be cautious about providing responses.
    2. Keep in mind that the company may not have strong security measures in place. The lack of strong security precautions in many companies is a real concern. Huge companies like Sony have been hacked multiple times and consumer’s passwords, names and financial information has been stolen. And unfortunately, many smaller businesses have even fewer safeguards in place to protect your data – so give them as little as possible! To learn more about these risks, see Small Business Owners Suffer from False Sense of Cyber Security.
  5. Make payments safely using a credit card or well respected payment service. Credit card purchases limit your liability to no more than $50 of unauthorized charges if your financial information is stolen, and the money in your bank account is untouched. Most debit cards do not offer this protection – and even when they do, you’re the one out of funds in the meantime. However, you probably don’t have a credit card, so striking a deal with a parent or guardian to put the charges on their card – with you handing them the cash – may be a good option.  Or, you can use a payment service like PayPal that hides your financial information from the online store and can be set up to take money out of your bank account. Do not use checks, cashier’s checks, wire transfers, or money orders as these carry high risks for fraud.
  6. Do your research. Just because a store claims to have the lowest price, doesn’t mean they actually have the best deal.
    1. Comparing the advertised price of an item doesn’t give you the full picture. You have to look at the final price – that includes any shipping, handling or taxes to see which deal may be really be the better bargain.  Some companies show lower prices, but make up the discount by charging high shipping fees.
    2. Check the company’s return policy. Some companies charge fairly steep return fees for shipping and restocking, so if you think the item may be returned factor this into the price as well.
    3. Look for online coupons or discounts. Lots of stores offer special deals if you just take the time to look for them. Typing the store’s name and ‘coupon’ is usually all it takes to discover whether extra discounts may apply.  
    4. No matter how great the ‘deal’ if you can’t afford it or it’s over your budget, it isn’t a deal. Learning financial responsibility now will set you up for financial security for the rest of your lives. And in spite of all the glittery ads, many of the best gifts don’t cost money.


Happy shopping!



It is Not A Bargain if it isn’t Safe

December 14, 2010

More than 22 Billion dollars have already been spent in online holiday spending this season, and an expected 30 million people will use the internet to buy presents according to ComScore data.

Unfortunately, it appears that many consumers are more interested in scoring a bargain than they are in their online safety. In fact, only one in seven prioritize buying from a trusted site according to new research from Paypal that found shoppers priorities concentrate more on finding a bargain (63%) than buying from a trusted website (14%) or rapid delivery time (10%).

A good Deal isn’t Either/Or

Receiving value when purchasing requires two ingredients – a good price and a safe experience. Settling for just a good price places you at risk of receiving counterfeit and inferior goods, at having your information stolen, sold or repurposed, never receiving the items, and, as we’ve just seen in the news, threats of bodily harm. See my blog Death Threats from Sellers for Trying to Return an Online Purchase.

Email and web scams are at an all-time high

From the scams that have landed in my inbox, I can only assume that this years hot items (beyond the usual Viagra, bodily enhancements, and hot women) are Ugg Boots and Nike Knockoffs, and the usual “Lolex” watches.

Checking a site’s legitimacy only takes a moment – and its time well spent

There really is no excuse for failing to check the legitimacy of a website. It only takes a moment or two, and everyone has the skills to do so. If you can search for a store’s name or for whatever item you’re shopping for, you have the skills to search for the stores reputation. If you can’t find a reputation for them, DON’T SHOP THERE. If they have a lot of complaints against them, DON’T SHOP THERE. It’s that easy.

Two key factors determine your level of safety when shopping or conducting any financial transaction online. The first is how well you secure your computing environment; the second is how savvy you are at identifying scams vs. legitimate offers. To test how well you manage your online safety, see my blog ‘Tis the Season – 10 Steps to Safer Holiday Shopping Online.


Death Threats from Sellers for Trying to Return an Online Purchase

December 13, 2010

You don’t expect to get death threats over an online purchase, but that’s now been the experience of at least two separate shoppers, one on each side of the country.

In the first incident, police arrested cyber merchant Vitaly Borker from in Brooklyn after allegedly threatening customers requesting refunds. The New York Times investigated and found Borker was threatening customers in an effort to get his business to score higher on Google search rankings.

Then, this week in Seattle, a couple contacted an online merchant to return what were obviously knockoff Nike shoes and the company contact responded to their refund request with a threat ” ‘Okay, our boss said we will employ a guy to kill you!’ ”

Interviewed by Komo TV on the incident, cyber specialist and president of the Safe Internet Alliance, Linda Criddle, said she thinks it’s an empty threat given the company is based in China, but never-the-less a very unpleasant experience.

“You need to do your homework,” Criddle said. “You need to type that store’s name and the word ‘review’ into a search engine and see how they’re reviewed. You want to see lots of reviews about a store.” She suggests searching complaints too.

Criddle also recommends shoppers think twice if the company is based out of country. “If it’s coming from abroad you need to be very careful ’cause you don’t have the ability to go after them in some fashion,” Criddle said.

See the blog ‘Tis the Season – 10 Steps to Safer Holiday Shopping Online for more information on how you can increase your safety while shopping online.

To watch the TV segment from Komo News, click here.

Online Shopping Sets New Records – But Are You Safe When Buying Online?

December 7, 2010


Black Friday and Cyber Monday saw record breaking increases in consumer spending. Shoppers spent $648 million in online sales on Black Friday, and a whopping $1.028 billion on Cyber Monday representing an increase of 16% over last year. Online spending was so strong, that Cyber Monday actually set two new records: it was the heaviest online spending day in history, and the first to surpass the billion-dollar threshold, according to comScore data.


How safe are YOU when shopping online?

Whenever large amounts of money are changing hands, criminals line up to siphon off as much as possible from unprotected and/or unsuspecting buyers.

Two key factors determine your level of safety when shopping or conducting any financial transaction online. The first is how well you secure your computing environment; the second is how savvy you are at identifying scams vs. legitimate offers. To test how well you manage your online safety, see my blog ‘Tis the Season – 10 Steps to Safer Holiday Shopping Online.

A few simple precautions will help keep you from being grinched by crooks this holiday season.