This Black Friday, millions of shoppers will once again make the final seconds of a close football game look like a store window filled with clumsy puppies. And when they don’t find what they’re looking for, they’ll go online where, in addition to great deals, a cornucopia of scams await.
The migration from brick-and-mortar retailers to online shopping is pronounced. Last year set a record, with more than $3 billion in online sales. But that doesn’t mean people aren’t still hitting the stores—Black Friday wasn’t far behind in 2015 sales, at $2.74 billion.
As consumers increasingly finish their holiday shopping online—or even do the entirety of it there—the snares and pitfalls of internet fraud have proliferated. But fraud isn’t the only worry.
The mouse buster
Whether you’re faced with a “mouse buster” or a good old-fashioned door buster, a compelling promotion involving “limited availability” of a hot item is not a scam—or at least it doesn’t have to be. That said, you have to stay aware so you know what it is you’re dealing with on Cyber Monday—and remember, scammers are counting on the fact that you will be too stressed to think straight.
All’s fair in the battle for the perfect gift during the holiday season. Retailers aren’t responsible for the decisions you make. Unless you come prepared knowing precisely what you want, how much you should reasonably pay and have an absolute budget, you may find it nigh impossible to resist the wiles of the marketing geniuses who make their living selling you the nonessentials of life.
There will be deals online and the promise of impossible-to-find items that disappear like a mirage—arrival to the online oasis suggested by your favorite search engine to find “the toy that can be found nowhere” immediately turning into the hard sell of desperation marketing of alternative items.
Whether you’re facing a door buster deal on a popular item or a mouse buster, the same principles apply. Know what you want and how much you should have to pay, and stick to those parameters.
Most importantly, keep your head on straight. Retailer shopping lures are tempting, but they are nothing compared to the trouble a clever phishing lure can cost. Remember: If it seems too good to be true, double check that the deal you’re being offered is real.
At this point in the evolution of the phishing scam, it seems like we should be able to skip the particulars of scams, but the open and click-through rates on phishing emails and texts are still robust.
Part of the reason that’s true is because scammers are sophisticated, creative and persistent. Websites are replicated down to the last detail, and URLs are acquired that can pass muster as authentic—with things like a “1” replacing a lowercase L or adding an extra letter—even if you are looking at the URL to make sure you’re not being scammed. This applies whether you received an offer via text or email.
The rule of thumb here: If you get an offer via text or email, go online and visit the retailer by carefully and correctly typing in its address instead of clicking the link. If the text or email says that the only way to get the offer is through the link offered, chances are good that it’s a scam, because no retailer would chance losing a click-through because of a consumer’s fear of getting hacked. (And, if you think you have been hacked, monitor your credit for signs of identity theft. You can view your free credit report snapshot, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)
You aren’t there
While millions of people take care of all their holiday shopping on Cyber Monday, the day is “traditionally” known as best for certain kinds of gifts: Electronics, beauty items, fashion accessories and travel. Bear in mind, some purchases often are better made in person where you can check out an item and see if it does what you want it to or is the right size. You also may want to check out whether or not there are better deals on comparable products.
There are purchases that make sense online—a travel package is one that comes to mind, since you are never there until you visit. But when it comes to a new TV or other item that is better seen, handled or experienced firsthand, it’s a good idea to go to a store that carries it to make sure it’s what you are looking for, even if you intend to make your purchase online.
At the end of the day, the key to successful Cyber Monday shopping is to stay on your A-game. Pay attention, do your homework, don’t get caught up in acquisition ecstasy, and stick to your plan. And if your first plan for a purchase doesn’t work out, it’s a good idea to have a Plan B that wasn’t figured out by the retailer’s door buster strategy meetings.
Adam Levin is Chairman and co-founder of IDT911 and Credit.com, where this story originated as an Op/Ed contribution. It does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.