Halloween has come and gone and now, the official Holiday season kicks into full swing. Thanksgiving and Christmas ads have already started appearing everywhere, and if you’re a die-hard bargain shopper, you’re probably eager to begin mapping out your Black Friday shopping plan.
This time is also “popular” for Black Friday scams that can damper your Holiday spirit before you even walk out your front door, all of which occur using electronics. After all, you use your smartphone, computer, and email on a daily basis, so scammers are sure to use them to their advantage.
The good news is that many of these Black Friday scams are easy to avoid, as long as you know what to look for—which is exactly what we’ll help you do here.
First up? Good old email.
Common Black Friday Email Scams
What’s the number one draw for Black Friday shoppers? Getting a good—or great—deal.
Crooks understand this, so they’ll use your desires against you to scam you out of your money, your personal information, or both. How?
Usually through email, although many occur through pop-up advertisements while surfing the web. In fact, as we’ve discussed in the past, 2.5% of spam (i.e. unwanted) emails are scams. And when it comes to Black Friday, these scammy emails can use several different tactics to get your attention:
Fake Coupon Email Scam
There will be a whole lot of coupons floating around soon, but not all of them will be legitimate.
If you receive an unexpected email that claims to contain deeply discounted coupons (especially for Apple-related products like iPhones and iPads), approach with caution.
In fact, if you receive one of these emails, the best idea is not to open it at all. After all, most legitimate retailers provide customers with the ability to sign up for Black Friday email alerts, and if you didn’t’, this could be your first sign of a scam.
If you open one of these emails by accident, don’t click on any links it contains. And if you do click on a link, don’t enter any of your personal information and immediately close your browser window.
Pro tip: Remember, some viruses and other types of malware can be immediately downloaded through sneaky images embedded in emails. To prevent this, change your email settings so that images aren’t automatically downloaded, and make sure that your antivirus software is up to date.
Undeliverable Package Email Scam
Outside of saving you money, scammers will also grab your attention using emails that try and convince you that a package from FedEx, UPS, or USPS can’t be delivered. Or, they might want you to download a shipping label or verify a tracking number.
Whichever angle they use, if you weren’t expecting any shipments, this should immediately raise a red flag.
Many times, scammers will include the delivery company’s name in the subject line, which can allow you to contact the company directly without ever opening the email (better safe than sorry, right?).
As with fake coupons, if you do accidentally open one of these emails, don’t click on any links they contain or enter your personal information into any forms.
Pro tip: None of these shipping companies will email you if a package can’t be delivered. So if you see one of these emails, you can almost be certain that it’s a scam.
Refund Email Scam
For many of us, the Holiday shopping season is all about budgeting; we’ve got a lot of gifts to give and only a certain amount of money available to buy them. So, if you receive an unexpected email claiming that you’re eligible for a refund, it can be tempting to find out what’s going on.
It would be extremely rare for a retailer to email you, unannounced, to let you know that you’ve suddenly received a refund. This is particularly true if you haven’t recently returned anything.
Even if a retailer did choose to let you know through an email, they’ll almost always provide a brief description in the subject line. Something along the lines of, “Your Amazon order of [ABC Product] is eligible for a rebate.”
Instead, most scammers will provide very little information in the subject line, something like “wrong transaction” or “click for a refund.” After all, they’re trying to entice you to click away.
Pro tip: Not expecting a refund? Immediately delete the email. If you’ve ordered from a company and are legitimately eligible for a refund, they already have all your information on file and will contact you using some other more reliable method (like the phone).
Knock Off Product Scam
Compared to the examples above, bogus product scams don’t usually occur through email, although it’s been known to happen. Instead, you’ll often run across advertisements for these products online, especially social media websites.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you see a Louis Vuitton handbag advertised for 50% less than you can find it anywhere else. You go ahead and purchase the item, pleased that you got such a great deal and excited that it will soon arrive.
Once you receive it, though, you find that it’s just a cheap knockoff—and not even a very good one at that. Some of the stitching has already started coming out, the printing on the outside is sloppy, and the zipper will only close about ¼ of the way.
As you can see, in contrast to what we’ve discussed so far, bogus product scams will often give you something in return for your money, but probably nothing close to what you expected.
Pro tip: Don’t let your desire to snag a great deal cloud your reason. Whether you’re shopping for high-end handbags or the hottest toy of the season, if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Common Black Friday Phone Scams
Coupons Scam … Again
Did you know that 75% of shoppers use their phones to look for better deals while they’re in a store? Crooks often use this to their advantage by advertising fake coupons and other types of savings scams, which they know most money-hungry Black Friday shoppers will be eager to find.
These scammers also know that you’re probably tired of getting up early or staying up late and that you’re likely in a crowded, stressful situation, so your defenses are down.
Usually, you’ll find these fake coupon advertisements making the rounds on social media websites, and—as we discussed above—through emails.
Pro tip: if you come across a coupon or advertisement when using your phone that seems too good to be true, or that comes from an unknown retailer, keep moving. There’s probably nothing there but disappointment and frustration.
Text Phishing Scam
According to Webopedia, phishing involves “falsely claiming to be an established legitimate enterprise in an attempt to scam the user into surrendering private information that will be used for identity theft.”
For example, you might receive a text from someone claiming that fraudulent activity has been detected on your checking or savings account. They claim that you’ll have to call them to reactivate your account, which usually involves handing over your account numbers, social security number, passwords, and other valuable information.
Pro tip: Yes, most major credit card companies offer fraud protection benefits that might include texting you in the event of an emergency. But instead of calling any numbers listed in text messages, look on the back of your card and call that number instead.
This way, you’ll be able to avoid potentially being scammed when you’re in the middle of your Black Friday shopping.
Top Tips for Avoiding Black Friday Scams
No, we’re not talking about hauling all your gifts home after a Black Friday shopping spree. Instead, we’re talking about bringing what we’ve learned together, and wrapping it up it a nice, neat bow.
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When it comes down to it, there are 4 tried-and-true tips you can use to avoid these types of Black Friday scams:
As always, never open any emails from unknown senders. And if you accidentally do, don’t click on any links they contain or enter any of your personal or financial information.
Whether it’s by email, an online advertisement, or a pop-up that appears on your phone, be wary of too-good-to-be-true coupons or deals, especially if you’ve never heard of the retailer before.
If you’re not expecting a package, don’t fall for emails or text messages claiming that something is undeliverable.
If you receive a text message claiming your account has been compromised, it can be alarming, to say the least. Take a deep breath and call the number on the back of your card—but don’t call the number shown in the text.
Bonus tip: During the Holiday season, it’s always a very good idea to monitor your card statement regularly. Not only will this help you avoid fraudulent activity if your information is compromised, but it can also help you stay within your budget, too!
For additional Black Friday and Holiday season resources, head to our 2018 Holiday Shopping and Travel Guide.