It’s sometimes easier to buy online rather than shop at local brick and mortar stores. We will have spent close to $91 billion over 61 days during the Christmas season, according to Adobe’s 2016 Digital Insights Shopping Predictions. The company report claims that Black Friday, which I took part in, sold $3 billion in online sales. It’s terrific news for retailers, but there’s a group of folks who love the heightened gift buying season too; the rip-off and scam artists behind devious shopping swindles.
AARP offers good suggestions that I echo in order to keep your credit cards and money far away and safe from the hands of con artists.
Forged App—bogus apps flood Apple and Android stores imitating familiar retailers like Dollar Tree and luxury brands including Christian Dior. A few have phishing methods that steal personal information and hijack mobile devices until a ransom is paid, says the New York Times.
How to avoid: Before you download, check the logo and description for misspelled words or titles, omitted letters, or poor English, since many originate in China. Avoid the ones with few customer reviews, new apps, or links to apps from other retailers.
Review cons—the ones that arrive via email, text messages and social media posts and promise a generous reward like a coupon or a product for giving your opinion about future purchases. The links that lead to the survey often hide computer malware that attempt to retrieve personal or financial information.
How to avoid: Be leery of generic “Dear Customer” inquiries. When legitimate companies ask about customer experiences, they personalize using your and the product you bought, along with the date and time of the purchase. You can expect to receive legitimate review emails within 30 minutes after the online transaction. Also, don’t fall for expensive reward items just for answering a few questions. Before clicking on any link, hover your mouse over the URL and if the address doesn’t display the company’s name before the dot com, assume it’s a scam.
Beware of copycat websites—that mimic well-known retailers. The counterfeit online sites may look like the real deal, but carefully observe the domain address in the URL. It may be off by a letter, or variation of a company name like Walmartco.mn, indicating the website was registered in Mongolia, or walmart.cm for a site in Cameroon.
How to avoid: Pay attention to the product description text and URLs not ending with .com or .org. Check out the Contact Us page to find the business address and verify it by looking up the company on the Internet, or a phone number. If a number is listed, call it to make sure it’s working and doesn’t lead you to just voicemail. Credible companies have live operators.
If you’re buying online, never provide credit card information on any page without an https://. The “s” means it’s secure. To stay tuned to current scams, sign up to receive Fraud Scams at AARP: http://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/fraud-watch-network/.
Carol Marak, aging advocate, columnist, and editor at SeniorCare.com. She earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from the University of CA, Davis.