Online Holiday Shopping Traps Part Two: Phony Deals and Offers

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When buying online, you are likely to come across at least one online scam, if not more. They come in all forms, pop-up windows, offers directly to your email inbox and in search results. To protect yourself, keep informed of shopping traps and scams. Here are three to be aware of:

1. Phony Black Friday or Other Ads

If you're planning to shop on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, you want to see the big sales in advance. Cybercrooks know that. So they create sites that try to capture traffic from searches for sales fliers. What they really want is your personal information. Similar to the $1,000 gift card scam, the goal of these crooks is to get your personal information, or have you click a link that secretly loads your computer with malware that captures and transmits your information to them.

To help protect yourself:

  • Be vigilant. Don't click on random links, and don't download attachments from people you don't know.
  • Update your software. Be sure your malware and virus protection software is up-to-date and turned on.
  • Go to the source. If you're looking for Black Friday ads, look for legitimate sales information at sites such as BlackFriday.com or DealNews.com.

2. Holiday Vacation Deals You Don't Want

If the idea of spending the holidays on a cruise or lying on a warm beach appeals to you, would you be tempted by an offer to go for free? Or to get your hotel for free? "Anytime you see the word 'free,' alarm bells should go off," says Christopher Elliott, a consumer advocate. "Free cruise. Free all-inclusive vacation. Free flights. All of those things are signs that you are probably looking at a scam. The word 'free' is the lure."

In these sorts of deals, at some point you're going to be asked to a pay "taxes" or a fee that supposedly is the one thing that isn't free. "Once you buy in, they'll promise you the world, and they'll ask you to wire money," Elliott says. "It's in-season this time of year."

To help protect yourself:

  • Play it safe. Use only trusted travel sites and rental agencies when booking.
  • Be wary of super low prices. Don't fall for gimmicks that make what ought to be a pricey vacation look like something you can get for a fee or a couple of hundred dollars. When those tantalizing promises are dangled, Elliott says, "don't walk away — run."

3. Promises of 'Free' Stuff

Promotions to "Like" a company's Facebook page in exchange for a $1,000 gift card or getting texts with similar ploys have become routine in recent years. Why? Because people fall for them. Identity thieves count on consumers entering their personal and financial information to get the freebie.

To help protect yourself:

  • Stop and think before acting. A company is not going to give away a $1,000 gift card in exchange for a "Like," and it's not going to randomly text you with a similar deal. If you see one of these come-ons, delete it or just move on. "If you just stopped for a second, you'd realize that it's just too good to be true," Elliott says.

For more information on identifying online shopping traps, including phishing scams, how scammers are exploiting new forms of payment such as prepaid cards, and more, visit www.consumerfed.org/fraud.

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