Scammers Prey on Surge in Online Shopping this Holiday Season

November 25th · 5 min read

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are two of the biggest holiday shopping days of the year. Criminals know this, and they benefit from the chaos and urgency by taking advantage of shoppers during a time when the ticking clocks and crowds cloud their otherwise savvy judgment.

This year might be a little different. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, more people are turning to online shopping. Many of whom aren’t as experienced with e-commerce websites and may find themselves fooled by scammers posing as legitimate online retailers.

If you plan to do any holiday shopping, online or offline, you’re going to want to know about these scams to avoid falling prey to cybercrime this year.

The Scams

Criminals use many different techniques to prey on potential victims and they often change their methods to determine which scams work best. They often use tried and true methods, adding a special twist to match the occasion, in this case, a surge in holiday shopping.

Bait & Switch Online & In Store

A bait and switch scam takes place when a business lures a customer by promising one thing but them offering a more expensive or inferior product instead. This is common online with many discount retailers and Amazon. Customers believe they’re purchasing a high quality product, but instead receive a cheap knockoff version that lacks the quality of the item they intended to purchase. In stores, sale ads might advertise a spectacular deal on an item drawing many people into their store, but in reality they only had one of the advertised items in stock, instead offering inferior products to those not quick enough to score the originally advertised item.

In another version of this scam, a website might offer a free drawing for a costly item, like a new phone or gift card for a popular store. Entrants are asked to enter their personal information and complete a survey to be entered into the drawing, but those details are then used for the criminal’s own gain, and no drawing was ever intended to take place.

Delivery Problems

It’s common during the holiday season to make multiple purchases, often from multiple websites. It can be tough to keep track of each of your orders. Criminals capitalize on this by creating emails that alert potential victims that there has been a problem delivering their package. In the email, victims are asked to reply or click on a link to provide personal information under the guise of arranging a convenient delivery time. Below is an example of one such phishing email, but don’t be fooled. Scammers may imitate any delivery service (or fabricate one of their own) and use wording that mirrors that of a legitimate email of its kind.

email alert Source: Fedex

Payment Issues

Similar to the scam involving delivery problems, criminals also create emails alerting potential victims that there was a problem processing their payment for an order. Unsuspecting victims then click on a link provided in the email that requests an updated payment method. These web pages are designed to imitate the look and feel of a legitimate website, so victims may not realize that they provided their billing information to a criminal until the damage to their financial accounts has already been done.

Goods Not Received

If an item you bought online doesn't arrive, it's possible that it got lost in transit, but it also could be that the item never existed in the first place. Therefore, it's highly important to reach out to the seller if your package doesn't arrive on time. Many card issuers, Paypal, and e-commerce websites like Amazon offer buyer protection. However, it is up to you to report a problem and follow through on a resolution. If the issue cannot be resolved, you can dispute the charge with your card issuer. Keep in mind that there is a limited timeframe in which you can file a claim. Because of this, it's crucial to take action right away and not fall victim to any delay tactics a seller may try to use.

Misleading Pricing Strategies

As a way of encouraging shoppers to make a purchase, businesses may increase the regular price of an item before the discount and then offer an attractive "sale price" for the item. By doing this, the business creates an illusion and false impression of receiving a good deal on an item. Avoid this type of scam by researching the products that you want to buy beforehand and getting an idea of their usual price. One way of doing your market research is by adding your items to an Amazon Wish List, which prominently displays any changes in price from the time that you added the item to your list.

Deals that Sound Too Good to be True

To get your attention, criminals will make wild "promises" that offer expensive items for free or at an extraordinarily low price. If it sounds too good to be true, chances are, it probably is. Real promotional offers typically won't exceed 20% off or may offer free shipping. Watch out for clickbait ads that will lead you right away to the phishing site.

Phishing Websites & Emails

Criminals often use phishing scam techniques to create a fake clone of a popular website or email. Unsuspecting victims who receive such emails click on a link in the email under the belief that it came from a trusted company. The link can then unleash viruses, trackers, or malware, or bring you to a website designed to look like the actual retailer, but instead steals your login or payment information. You can learn more about phishing scams and how they work here: Phishing Explained: Everything You Need to Know About Phishing Scams.

How can I stay safe from scams when shopping on Black Friday or Cyber Monday?

  1. Stick with trusted websites when shopping online. By relying on big-name companies for your online shopping, you can avoid the headaches and financial impact of possible scams.
  2. Use browser protection. Providers of browser protection like Guardio will alert you when a website you visit is spoofed or when a website is too new to be trusted.
  3. Verify that you are on a secure website. When shopping online, always make sure that you're on a secure page before providing any personal information. To do this, look for an image of a padlock to the left of the page's URL. The URL should also begin with the letters "HTTPS" and not with "HTTP". If you don't see either, any information you enter on the website is unprotected from hackers on transmission.

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  1. Verify that the URL for the website you're visiting matches the name of the company you're interested in shopping from. Criminals can create very realistic clones of popular websites designed to steal your information. The website URL may look similar, with only two letters switched, which can give a false sense of security.

  2. Avoid purchases on public WiFi. Unsecured WiFi connections provide criminals with easy access to anything you transmit while using the connection.

  3. Keep a close eye on your financial statements. The sooner you notice a fraudulent transaction, the more likely it will be that it can be withdrawn before any significant damage is done.

  4. Use your bank's protection. Most card issuers have a team of fraud detection experts who can identify fraud and alert you of any suspicious activities on your accounts. They may also offer reimbursement for any unauthorized purchases.

Black Friday can be a great day to save money on your shopping. As long as you stay aware and use caution, you can benefit from a great day of sales. If you have any concerns about something you've seen online, feel free to reach out at
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