Each year, millions of Americans forego crowded malls to shop online during the holiday season. Online shopping certainly has its advantages, such as avoiding holiday traffic and bypassing long checkout lines. With all the perks, is there any downside to shopping online? Unfortunately, the answer is yes, and it can be summed up in one word: scams.
Last year, scammers stole $184 million from consumers during the holiday shopping season, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. And roughly 65,000 people fall prey to these scams each year.
Online scams come in many forms, and scammers seem to get better at what they do every year. Fortunately, you can protect yourself by knowing what to look out for, and steering clear of potential scams.
1. The cloned website. Scammers have become experts at making their phony websites appear to be the real thing. You may access a phony website by mistyping the URL into your search bar. Or you might receive a scam email that appears to be from a legitimate retailer, with links that take you to the fake website. These websites will look extremely similar to the real deal—but there are some ways to tell they are not legitimate. First and foremost, check the URL. Even the most minor spelling error or an additional number or character slipped in can indicate a fake website. You can also check to see if the website has privacy information, terms and conditions, contact information, and information about shipping and returns. If it seems to be missing crucial information, then it is likely a scam website.
2. The fake order confirmation. If you’re doing a lot of online shopping for the holidays, you’re probably used to receiving order confirmation emails. In the mix of your legitimate confirmations, you might notice an email confirming a purchase you never made. The email will appear to be from a retailer, or a payment service such as PayPal. It will include a link for you to dispute the charge, and that link will redirect to a web page asking for your personal information. DO NOT enter your information! Instead, contact the retailer or payment service directly to find out if there really was an order placed by mistake. Most likely, the confirmation email was sent by a scammer trying to obtain your personal and financial information.
3. The fake online coupon. Everyone’s looking for great deals during the holidays. Unfortunately, scammers know this, and they create phony coupons to steal your personal information—or even infect your computer with malware. You might see the coupons shared on social media, or they can arrive in your email inbox. For example, there was a fake Costco coupon making the rounds on social media in November. The link included the Costco logo and a barcode, making it appear legitimate. The link from the fraudulent offer took victims to a website where they were asked to input their personal information in order to receive the coupon. Facebook users shared the link with their friends, causing it to go viral. Costco warned people that the coupon was a scam that was not affiliated with the company. To protect yourself from coupon scams, be sure to contact the retailer to find out if they are actually offering the discount. If they are, then you should go directly to their website to find the coupon. Never download a coupon being shared on social media, and never open a coupon you receive as an email attachment.
4. The phony shipping notification. Millions of packages are being shipped during the holiday season, and scammers are capitalizing on that. Look out for emails that appear to be from delivery services such as UPS and FedEx. Scammers send emails alerting you that a package is on its way to you, but you need to make delivery arrangements. The email will ask you to enter personal information, or provide you with a link to a phony website. Don’t click the links, and do not respond to the email. Contact the delivery service if you have concerns about a shipment.
5. The non-delivery scam. Whether you’re shopping on Facebook Marketplace, Ebay, or another buy/sell website, beware of suspicious sellers. While there are plenty of legitimate sellers on these sites, there are also tons of scammers. One of the most common scams from these sites is non-delivery: you pay for the item, but never receive it. Fortunately, there are ways to spot a shady seller. If the seller requests that you send payment via wire transfer or a prepaid card, they are likely trying to scam you, because it’s nearly impossible to recover money sent by those means. Additionally, watch for sellers who post their items under one name, but ask for payment to be sent to someone else. You can also check out the seller’s feedback rating to see if other buyers have had issues with them.
One of the best ways to protect yourself when making an online transaction with another consumer is to verify the person’s identity with eZverifi. Utilizing technology from TransUnion, the eZverifi app confirms the seller’s identity using a device-ID verification system. By verifying the person before you make a purchase, you can protect yourself from becoming the next scam victim. Get started with eZverifi today, and ensure your safety when dealing with strangers online.
Online scams can quickly ruin your holiday shopping experience. Remain vigilant while you shop online, and avoid anything that seems potentially suspicious. Remember: if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Take the extra steps to ensure you are dealing with legitimate retailers, consumers and service providers, so you don’t become the next holiday scam victim.