Scammers are more active during the holiday season than at any other time of the year. They count on tired and harried consumers letting down their usual guard as they scramble to reach the end of their shopping lists. Successful scammers come up with new strategies every year, and their methods have become increasingly sneaky and sophisticated as they’ve fine-tuned their game plans. Online shopping provides consumers with convenience, access to the global marketplace, and the ability to shop around for the best bargains. However, this has come at a price for many holiday shoppers in the form of lost revenues and trust due to being caught up in the latest slick scam. Following are three of the worst scams of the year and how you can avoid falling into their traps.
Purveyors of counterfeit products appeal to almost everyone’s desire to keep holiday gift giving costs within a reasonable budget. They offer huge discounts on supposedly authentic merchandise and particularly target those seeking popular items that have sold out in traditional shopping venues. Predatory vendors have found ripe scamming grounds on Amazon and eBay, so be sure to check each individual seller’s rating prior to making a financial commitment to purchasing their product. If they’ve got a scant amount of sales and lackluster ratings from customers, pass them up no matter how substantial the savings.
“Flipped” products are another thing to watch out for on online auction-style marketplaces. Using computerized purchasing systems, scammers typically buy large amounts of the year’s hottest items, causing shortages among traditional retailers. They then put them up for sale on eBay or similar sites and sit back while frantic consumers compete in bidding wars. These same products are available for significantly slashed prices once the holidays are over.
Phishing scams have been around for years, but they change form frequently enough to put even seasoned cynics off their guard. This year’s phishing strategies involve offers of gift cards pretending to be from well-known retailers such as a recent mass-mailing campaign that appeared to come from Amazon. Other skilled scammers go so far as to create realistic-looking fake websites offering popular items for sale. This is particularly pernicious because you not only won’t receive the product in question, but your personal information may be sold to identity thieves or used by the original scammers. Protect yourself by shopping with established retailers only and by using software designed to keep your financial information as safe as possible.
Hackers also focus on legitimate retailers this time of year to harvest the personal and financial information from their customers. Fortunately, major retailers have recently taken steps to provide enhanced data encryption of sensitive information provided by their customers, but caution is nonetheless advised. Enabling online access to all bank accounts and credit cards allows consumers to closely monitor all financial transactions and take steps to minimize damage caused by scammers in the event that unauthorized charges or other signs of a data breach enter the picture. Fortunately, financial institutions all have a variety of safeguards in place designed to minimize damage caused by scammers and hackers. Nonetheless, identity theft is no picnic, so protect yourself by checking your accounts every day, never using public or insecure WiFi connections to make online purchases, and using a professionally produced protection package designed to identify online threats.