Black Friday will very soon be with us. After that, the deals continue for Cyber Monday. Over the next month or so, everyone will be scrabbling for Christmas presents. Amid that panic, we’re perfect targets for scammers.
Don’t worry: you can follow a few basic methods to protect yourself. These are simple but effective tips to keep in mind whenever you’re browsing the internet for bargains, but especially in the mad rush to buy your loved ones the best gifts for 25th December.
1. Pay By Credit Card
Credit cards are, without a doubt, the safest way to purchase items online — and yes, they’re more secure than debit cards.
Credit card companies are jointly liable with the trader if there is a problem with the product, so you’ve got an added safety net if the item is damaged or doesn’t turn up.
Thankfully, you can rely on “chargeback”. You can typically apply to your credit card company if you’re within 120 days of receiving your order — or of initially placing it if the items don’t arrive. It’s not a legal requirement: instead, it’s a persuasive way of getting you to use said company.
(If products don’t arrive, a retailer has to offer you a refund or replacement by law.)
In the USA, potential liability for unauthorised use of your credit card is limited to $50. This may seem a lot, but it’s nothing compared to how much fraud can cost you. And if you’re unfortunate to be a victim of online credit card fraud, here are some tips to remember.
If in doubt, check with your credit card company’s terms and conditions.
What’s more, if you link a credit card through your PayPal account, the latter has a Buyer Protection programme. This reimburses you the price of the item plus postage and packaging fees if a product either doesn’t turn up, or isn’t as described. Yes, exceptions exist, but I doubt you’ll be indulging in real estate on Black Friday, ready for Christmas! (Here are a few ways to keep your PayPal secure.)
2. Don’t Click Links In Emails
This is always tempting because it’s quick and easy. You get a newsletter in your inbox promising some amazing Black Friday offers. All you have to do is click the link, add it to your cart, pay, and away you go!
But this leaves you open to scammers who create fake emails claiming to be from big names like Amazon. Spotting a fake email isn’t typically hard, but can take a bit of time. And some are surprisingly realistic!
Check through the whole thing and look for glaring errors, notably spelling or grammatical mistakes; look at the images and logo in particular, noting any unusual graphical artifacts. If it doesn’t look sharp, it’s probably fake.
Rather than click the email links, junk them and find the site yourself. Just open up another window and search for the products you’re interested in. Amazon lists many of its Black Friday deals on its homepage in advance so you can browse through and find exactly the same bargain advertized in your email. Or not, as the case may be!
3. In Fact, Don’t Trust Links — Period
More and more people are learning that they can’t trust emails. It’s probably because we’re so accustomed to giving out this detail when signing up to things. We expect spam.
Just received a malicious SMS from sender "WhatsApp", redirects to whatsaqq[.]com – Can see lots of people falling for this! pic.twitter.com/ZxST8B8v6r
— Alex Davies (@pwndizzle) October 22, 2017
However, you can’t trust SMS either. You might get a text message telling you a parcel can’t be delivered.
To reschedule, click on a link. Don’t.
Want to request a refund? Click on the link. Don’t.
To enter a competition to win gift cards, click on a link. You can probably guess the pattern here…
By 2019, it’s estimated that 2.5 billion people will have smartphones. Clicking on a link in SMS means the user is redirected online and cybercriminals can get hold of your private details.
Many are caught out by WhatsApp messages. The app boasts end-to-end encryption so users might incorrectly think this means spam can’t get into the system. Similarly, a fraudulent message might appear to come from trusted contacts — but your friend’s device could be compromised. Pick the contents of the text apart: does your contact really talk like that? Are they likely to send you a link to a supermarket giveaway?
Even if you do think it’s genuine, do your research. Type “Walmart gift card scam” into Google and endless results will pop up.
The same goes for social media. Is the promotion through a verified account? Even then, Twitter can be tricked.
No matter what, do not click on that link. Go to the source, i.e. the website it’s supposedly from. Competitions and surveys will be listed.
4. Look For Signs of Encryption
It doesn’t always appear when autosuggestion kicks in, but if you’re shopping online, make sure you look out for an often-overlooked sign of security.
You should be using a secure browser, preferably one which displays warnings if you visit an unsafe site. Most will do this, so don’t stress too much about it unless you’re using Internet Explorer. Switch to Edge or Chrome instead.
Next, whenever you visit a page requiring personal details, check out the URL, just before the “www.” “http://” is standard, an acronym of Hypertext Transfer Protocol which is the basis of data communication on the Internet. However, “https://” adds the TLS/SSL protocol (Transport Layer Security/Secure Sockets Layer), authentication based on cryptography which helps your browser identify the site.
Essentially, if you see that “S”, your connection is encrypted, making it private. Indeed, that additional letter stands for “secure”!
If the site is trusted, a padlock will appear in the address bar of most browsers. And here’s a handy way of making sure HTTPS is on as default.
5. Use Sites You Trust
Again, this is a simple one, but we can sometimes forget that sites might not be 100% trustworthy if they’re offering something unique and/or limited.
You have companies you always rely on throughout the rest of the year. It’d be churlish not to use them once again in the run-up to Christmas.
This doesn’t mean you can’t use smaller names, but shop around a bit: an item may be exclusive to a particular business, but they still might sell stock through eBay or Etsy. They may even be listed as a third-party seller on Amazon.
You should beware auction sites too. Although you get some safeguards, you also risk receiving faked items. In the best case scenario, knock-off products mean you’re paying a lot for a brand name that’s simply not justified, as you’ve got an inferior copy instead. In the worst case, these can be dangerous.
For example, fake electrical goods don’t come with safety guarantees, so can cause fires. Is it worth saving $10 if the recipient burns themself on your present?
Fake items are very hard to spot, so just do your best to stick to official sources. Ask yourself which markets you trust for which products. Craigslist is fine for books; less so for hair-straighteners.
It’s easy to become paranoid about this. Most sites are honest and only want to give you a good service. Nonetheless, sometimes even the big names can be hacked. Just remember to check for signs of encryption, and pay using a credit card and/or PayPal.
6. Keep Records of Your Transactions
Don’t just rely on a list of transactions filed under “My Account.” Keep a physical record of invoices or order confirmations. If a dispute does arise, you’ve got all the details you’ll need — and it’s reassuring when you open up your bank statement in January!
Some services use a different trading name from the one that might crop up when they debit your account. If you can find this out and it’s not obvious, note down that additional name on the corresponding paperwork.
When using PayPal, for instance, you’ll be told the client’s trading name which will be credited on your statement. That’ll help avoid a headache in the future. Similarly, keep in mind that Amazon often comes up under “INT’L” followed by a lengthy number.
As long as you’ve kept a note of the payments coming out of your account in December, you can cross-reference them at a later date.
7. Look for Returns Policies
You have the right to take back items within 28 days of purchases, in most cases. There are, of course, plenty of exceptions, but that’s nonetheless a good rule of thumb to remember.
Around the festive period, many retailers expand their returns policies and offer gift receipts. However, not all do. Generally, the big reputable names do. Amazon extends its policy, so anything bought through them between November 1 and December 31 can be returned until midnight January 31.
If each day is a 'gift', just wondering what the returns policy is on Mondays? #MondayMotivation
— M&S (@marksandspencer) November 13, 2017
It doesn’t include third parties, though. And this is the key thing about returns policies: you need to check individual sellers because specifics change.
You particularly need to be careful around auction sites. In some cases, retailers will include a shorter return period; others insist you pay for sending stuff back. And, most worryingly, some people don’t accept returns at all. So if you get an item that’s fake or damaged or simply unwanted… tough.
The key here is to know your rights — before purchasing!
BONUS TIP: Keep A Cool Head!
The bottom line is, don’t panic. It’s bizarre, but adrenaline pumps harder through our bodies when we spot a bargain. This is especially the case if there’s a limited quantity, or, as with eBay, a countdown.
Black friday: People trample each other for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have
— Proud 2 Be A Problem (@LosBeOnIt) November 22, 2014
Amazon uses both of these tactics in its flash deals. You’ll have a short time to check-out once you’ve added to your basket, and you might be told only “x” amount remains. In some cases, more stock arrives; in others, you’ve missed out. But at least you can try other retailers and third-parties (who might have better prices anyway!).
Then there’s that old saying which still comes in handy, whether you’re shopping online or in store… If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas!
Yep, it’s a stressful time. You’ll get hassled in stores as crowds squabble for the latest gear. You’ll be worried you won’t get it all done in time. And a considerable amount of money will disappear from your account — where the heck does all that actually go anyway?!
But it’s worth it in the end, isn’t it?
Do you take advantage of the deals on Black Friday? Or have you already done your Christmas shopping? Maybe you’ve got your eye on a nice new TV and are hoping to see big savings come the end of the week. Or maybe you’ve got a much-loved site you always use in preparation for the festivities. Let us know below!