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Holiday Shopping & Fraud Season

Black Friday and Cyber Monday fall at the end of November, immediately following Thanksgiving Day. For many, these days mark the beginning of the holiday shopping season. But for cyber thieves, these days are the beginning of the holiday fraud season.

The National Retail Federation predicts online shopping will account for about 44% of all holiday shopping this year, with much of it occurring during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. To protect yourself, internet security experts say you should be on the lookout for unrealistic sales prices, phishing emails, bogus gift cards and other offers that seem too good to be true.

Black Friday/Cyber Monday “Specials”

Scammers often advertise big-ticket items to lure unsuspecting consumers to click on links. Fraudsters may build complete copies of well-known websites, send emails promoting unbelievably great “deals” and take your credit card information – but they never deliver the goods.

Delta Community’s Director of Information Security Stephen Inocencio says websites that offer amazingly aggressive discounts far beyond other retailers’ offers are usually too good to be true. “Scammers can make fake websites that look almost exactly like your favorite retailers’ real sites,” said Inocencio. “The most common giveaway that a site is fake is the website address, so be on the lookout for typos or extra characters in the URL.”

Trust your gut: if a website link looks wrong do not click it. Instead, Inocencio says you should go to your web browser and manually type in the retailer’s website to see if the same deals are there.

“Free” Vouchers or Gift Cards

Another common scam involves huge discounts on gift cards. To get the cards, fraudulent websites request personal information that criminals then use to steal shoppers’ identities or access their banks or credit card accounts.

Offers for phony vouchers or gift cards may show up on social media sites, with some being paired with apparent holiday promotions or contests. Some social media posts may even appear to have been shared by someone you know. Often, these posts lead to online surveys designed to steal personal information. Again, instead of clicking on a link on social media, type the retailer’s website address into your browser.

You’ve got (Phishy) Email

Be diligent about checking the source of your email. Do not open emails from people you don’t know, and never open attachments or click on links in a suspicious email. One current example of a phishing email is intended to trick you into thinking you could win movie tickets. The fraudulent email seeks to steal your identity or credit/debit card information. Telltale signs of phishing attempts include poor grammar, typos, bold letters or flashing text in the message. Take your time and think before you open email or click on a link.

Even when you protect yourself as much as possible, sometimes the “bad guys” may still find a way to take advantage of you, as a busy shopper. If you think you’ve been hit by fraudsters, contact your financial institution and credit card companies immediately so they can help you protect your accounts, your identity and your good credit – and have a happy and secure holiday season.