It’s that time of year again. As holiday shoppers deck their halls with holiday cheer, hackers and scammers are lurking under the mistletoe, ready to steal whatever they can. Before you fall victim to one of these cyber-Grinches, take a look at some of the online scams targeting holiday shoppers and take steps to protect yourself.
1. Counterfeit Coupons
It’s an irresistible offer: a high value coupon to a popular store, with no strings attached. Just click the link, print and happy shopping! But stop before you click. Generally speaking, a retailer like Walmart or Kohls isn’t going to post a $100 coupon that anyone can print and use on social media, just as airlines won’t give out free flights, and celebrities aren’t writing checks to everyone who likes and shares a post. These scams pop up on social media all the time but tend to peak around the holidays when shoppers are looking for bargains. Instead of a valid coupon, people who click and share open themselves up to any number of issues, including phishing attack and malware. Not only that, but these fake coupon sites are usually like bait, tricking people into liking pages that are then turned into something completely different. Your best bet when you see these coupons is to keep on scrolling or, better yet, report them to Facebook as spam.
Another coupon scam are sites that claim to offer discount codes and coupons. There are several legitimate sites that allow you to search for deals without entering any personal information, so use those. Otherwise, by entering your email or cell phone number, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to all sorts of spam as well as phishing attacks.
2. Fake Websites and Emails
During the weeks leading up to the holidays, you’ll undoubtedly receive hundreds of emails about sales, special offers and exclusive discounts. Before you click any links, though, be cautious. Sophisticated scammers can create very convincing emails that look like they came from a legitimate retailer, with links that lead to convincing-looking websites that are ready and waiting to steal your information, install malware and more. If you get an email about a great deal, don’t click on the link from the email but rather enter the store address into your browser directly. If there is a code, enter it manually at checkout. If you really want to click a link, double-check the email before you click. That means looking at the sender’s name and address, watching for telltale signs like misspelled words and poor grammar and avoiding emails that use an excess of capital letters or exclamation points – or just look “off” somehow. It might take a few extra moments, but it’s worth it to protect your money and identity.
3. Wi-Fi Spies
The notion of hackers spying on public Wi-Fi or creating fake hotspots to steal information is nothing new, but 1 in 5 adults still believes that it’s safe to use public Wi-Fi for activities like shopping or banking. Simply put, it’s not. Especially during busy times, hackers will set up shop in shopping malls and other crowded areas to spy on the Wi-Fi and gather whatever they can. Therefore, try to avoid using public Wi-Fi for anything sensitive, and double-check that your home connection is secured before shopping online at home.
These are just a few of the risks shoppers face this holiday season, but you can protect yourself. Install and use antivirus protection on all your devices, and keep everything updated. When shopping, try to use just one card, so it’s easier to spot any suspicious activity, and never use your debit card online. Set up alerts with your bank to alert you to transactions as well.
And finally, consider creating an email account just for holiday shopping. That way, if you do give out your email address to score a great deal, you won’t be inundated with more messages in your inbox, and any cyber criminals won’t be able to access and steal your information. With a little awareness and some smart decision-making, you won’t spend the holidays trying to find the Grinch who stole your Christmas.