Scammers are out and about ahead of Black Friday, concocting all sorts of fraud to get your money. How are you to know if a deal is real?
You might not think there’s such a thing as a bad deal, but when the deal is a scam, you might want to think again.
While you might buy from really specific sellers, if you’re out and about looking for a good deal online, there’s a chance you might want into a con, and with so many of us searching and shopping online, the chances are strong that it could happen to you.
With the holiday season heating up, it only adds to the risk, though the sales of Black Friday and Cyber Monday could just bring more scammers out of the woodwork, and make things more complex as a casual shopper.
For scammers, the idea of a quick sale that seems too good to be true makes for an ideal con, and with these sales dates being as big as they are, there’s a chance you won’t question the prices, particularly if it seems like a real deal.
So what’s happening, and how do you stay aware?
Sales events ahead of the holiday season
Before Christmas, Chanukah, and all those other seasonal events kick in this year, there’s a shopping season that arrives off the back of Thanksgiving in the US.
Australians don’t have Thanksgiving, but we do partake in the shopping festivities that are Black Friday, the shopping day after Thanksgiving, plus the Monday after, an online shopping event known as Cyber Monday, and that’s the same for much of the world.
Think of these as the first big sales ahead of the holiday season, because that’s what they are, and they happen the world over. While Click Frenzy occurs several times a year, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are specific to the end of November, and are basically the international equivalent of a Boxing Day sale before holiday shopping begins.
But because it’s a big international sales event that affects much of the world over, it gives scammers a chance to get in with their own messaging, putting forth deals that are anything but, and for many, that deal is one that could just land them in hot water.
Scams not deals
You’ll know it if you’ve seen it, and we’ve all seen something that is just simply too good to be true.
An iPhone for well below what you’d expect to pay for it. A video game system that is out of stock everywhere else and yet magically has a big discount, too. Discounts and bargains are what scammers prey on during these sale times, and hope that your desire for the deal outweighs your common sense, that you’ll click and hand over money at a moment’s notice without too much thought.
But that’s what you shouldn’t do, because the drive for a bargain is exactly what scammers are hoping to trap people with.
“The lure of a heavily discounted and popular product that you want puts you into a mindset that you need to land that deal quickly for fear of missing out on it,” said Aaron Bugal, Global Solutions Engineer at Sophos, who told Pickr that online sales opportunities like Black Friday provide scammers with the chance to fleece people more easily.
“If you do happen to purchase something that’s fraudulent, not only will you most likely not receive the goods, but you’ve also given up your personal and payment information to the cybercriminal,” said Bugal, adding that “this impact can have dramatic financial consequences”.
How do you spot a scam that’s supposed to be a sale?
Working out the difference between real and fake is crucial if you’re going to partake in Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, though it may not matter if you stick to the traditional channels.
If you’re shopping at places you know — the online department and electrical stores, the big names you’re aware of and already know the web addresses of — you’ll likely be fine.
It’s when you hear from people out of the blue and over email, and see something that seems too good to be true. There’s an element of common sense that you need to apply here, but hovering over the email’s links and making sure the website is what it says it is can help, too.
And if you get a message over your phone’s text messaging that looks too good to be true — if you receive an SMS — make sure to question whether that retailer would send you an SMS to begin with.
“Be mindful of the retailers you expect to hear from during these sales and where their communication should come from,” said Bugal.
“If you don’t expect to receive an SMS informing you of a deal on electronics when you would normally receive a catalogue via email, then check with the retailer’s actual website to validate the offer.”
The other thing you need to do is regular scam checking, so looking at grammar, spelling, and whether the message even makes sense. Scammers might well take advantage of a sales opportunity, but few scams have a solid comprehension of the English language, and that can make them easier to spot.
And Sophos’ Bugal offered Pickr’s readers one more tip to stay aware of Black Friday scams: set your mail to automatically organise emails from shopping brands.
“Don’t only subscribe to the mailing lists of your favourite retailers, also create an email folder in your inbox that places inbound messages from those specific sender addresses into it. That way, the items that arrive and correctly move to your ‘retail offers’ inbox folder are ones you expect,” he said.
“Anything else that arrives and sits in your inbox is unexpected and should be treated with a little suspicion.”
Bugal also suggested paying attention to the social media accounts of retailers, because that may mean tracking official deals, and even being able to respond if a scammer attempts to trick you with one bad deal of their own.
Ultimately, being aware of scams and how they work is one of the best ways to make sure you don’t get conned, so if you receive anything that sounds too good to be true, even during sale season, question it and whether it could be real, because that could save you from being conned.