Tips for avoiding scams during the holiday shopping season

Privacy news
3 mins
keep a close eye for possible scams this holiday season

The holiday season is here, and in the age of Covid-19, many of us are resorting to online shopping. E-commerce spending is likely to rise sharply from last year. But that also means hackers and scammers lie in wait eager for you to make a misstep.

Stay alert and look out for these scams:

Charity scams

Philanthropic donations skyrocket during the holiday season, which makes it even more important to trust the site you’re donating money to. A reputable charitable organization will never request that you donate cash or gift cards.

Before donating, make sure you do your research. Scammers may try to impersonate well-known charities and causes you support. You can research legitimate charities through the Charity Navigator website, which is an industry watchdog.

Deals that seem too good to be true

We all love a good bargain, and the holiday season coincides with some of the best deals around. With shopping extravaganzas like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, many consumers wait till the end of November to start doing their holiday shopping.

Cybercriminals are well aware of this. According to some estimates, over 5,000 Black Friday and Cyber Monday scam websites were registered in November. Many of these had domains implying they were connected to professional sports leagues or popular brands.

Use common-sense methods to verify the legitimacy of a deal site. If social links such as Facebook and Instagram pages are missing, then that’s a red flag—legitimate businesses almost always want to promote themselves on social media. It’s also a better idea to buy from a well-established company having a sale, rather than a site that could have cropped up yesterday.

If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.

Suspicious emails

Email-related fraud (often a form of phishing) is one of the most common ways to scam, and we see more of it as we enter into the last month of the year. A general rule of thumb is to avoid clicking on links or even opening emails from companies you don’t recognize. If you don’t recall giving your email address away, then it’s possible that your information was bought as part of a large email list with the intention to siphon money.

Scammers can insert links loaded with malware in emails that appear legitimate and genuine. But pay close attention to the sending domain, and if it seems untrustworthy, then trash it.

Hackers lurking on public Wi-Fi

Unsecured public Wi-Fi networks, such as those found in malls, coffee shops, and restaurants, are a magnet for hackers. They take advantage of the weak security to launch man-in-the-middle attacks to pilfer your data (at any time of the year). We strongly recommend that you only connect to public Wi-Fi if you are using a high-quality VPN. If you aren’t using a VPN, mobile data is safer than Wi-Fi.

Travel scams

Despite the pandemic, tens of thousands of people will look to travel over the holidays. In 2019, there were approximately 35,000 travel scams costing consumers 105 million USD.

Many consumers fall prey to all-inclusive vacation deals that offer flights, hotels, and meals for cheap prices. But once they input their credit card details, they find that the offer wasn’t valid. To guard against this, only buy from reputable sites such as those that offer customer support and trusted reviews. Remember, if a deal is too good to be true then it probably is.

Further tips to stay protected

Despite all these precautions, it’s still possible for us to fall prey to online scams. There are a few things you can do to mitigate the threat.

  • Keep a watchful eye on bank and credit card statements: As we’re shopping throughout the holiday season, it can be difficult to keep up with all that we’ve bought online. However, make it a habit to reconcile your credit card statements with emailed purchase receipts. That makes it easier to track when something’s amiss.
  • Don’t create a ton of online accounts: Many sites allow you to check out as a guest, without needing to input as much personally identifiable information. That comes in handy if the site in question is ever subject to a cyberattack that could compromise your data.
  • Read reviews: Rely on the guidance of the wider internet community. If a site has plenty of verified reviews, then it should be O.K. to purchase from. If you feel something is amiss, then type in the name of the product + review in a quick online search. If it’s a scam, then chances are you’re not the first one to be affected.

Read more: 2020 Gift Guide: Best cybersecurity gifts for privacy protection

I like to think about the impact that the internet has on humanity. In my free time, I'm wolfing down pasta.