How to spot shopping scams when you're hunting bargains, and what to do when you find them.
Everyone wants the deal of a lifetime on Black Friday, including thieves and scammers. For them, an unwitting shopper is the perfect gift. Fortunately, by taking a few precautions you can avoid delivering yourself into their waiting hands.
Five signs of a scam to watch out for
There are five major red flags to look out for when you're hunting through Black Friday deals.
1. Deals that are too good to be true
Black Friday can offer large discounts, but be suspicious of specials that are way too cheap. Scammers need to get your attention before they can take your money, which means standing out from the crowd. Among a sea of discounts, they need some eye-wateringly low prices to lure people in. So anything like a new flatscreen TV for $10, Ugg boots for $4 a pair or a brand new iPhone 6 for $10 should raise major hackles. 20% off all items or free shipping deals are much more realistic (and actual) examples.
2. Suspicious emails
Both Black Friday and Cyber Monday see discounts online, but scammers go online too and will come knocking on your email inbox. Their goal is to get you to click something in the email which can unleash viruses, trackers or other malware onto your computer. In many cases these emails will arrive disguised as being from a legitimate shopping or finance brand. Sometimes the simplest tricks are also the most effective.
If you're not sure you can trust the source of an email, do not click on any links found in it. Check by going directly to the brand's website instead of clicking that link.
3. Phishing scams
Have you ever wondered why a website wanted your Medicare or Tax File number, childhood nickname, the name of your first pet, and your favourite song, colour, food and movie? It was probably so they could steal your identity. Phishing is the name given to theft of valuable private information, and in many cases the thieves steal it simply by asking nicely, through scam emails or scam sites.
4. Unencrypted connections and spelling mistakes
A key rule of thumb when shopping online is to check that you're using an encrypted connection. If you are entering personal information on a website, it needs to be a secure. Look for "https" at the start of the URL and a padlock icon in the URL bar. If that's missing, the site is likely to not be legitimate. Typos and other inaccuracies can also be signs that the website is just a shoddy imitation of the real thing.
5. Suspicious gift cards
Gift cards are a handy way to choose gifts for picky recipients, but they do have vulnerabilities. They're a shoplifter's dream, being small, lightweight and easy to conceal. These days, however, they are typically deactivated until purchased. This doesn't stop the shoplifters from reselling useless cards to unsuspecting individuals. So be careful of anyone offer discount gift cards, especially if it's for a major brand.
How to shop more safely on Black Friday
- Stick to trusted and verified websites. By sticking to reliable brands you already shop with, and trusted lists of verified deals (like the ones we assemble at finder.com.au), you can ensure you're avoiding any dodgy deals.
- Take advantage of protection from your bank. Banks have sophisticated systems to detect potential fraud on debit and credit cards. Check what your bank offers. Some offer a zero liability guarantee for debit cards and will reimburse you for unauthorised transactions. Others will let you shop through platforms like Apple Pay or Android Pay while using biometrics for additional security. Some will let you set-up two-step authentication for online shopping, so you need a code from a text message before you can purchase. Whatever's on offer, remember to regularly monitor transactions from credit and debit cards and contact your financial institution immediately if problems arise.
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