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November 28, 2013

Watch Out for Online Shopping Scams This Holiday Season

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’Tis the season to shop, shop, shop.

But it is also the season when cyber-criminals kick it up a notch to take advantage of the uptick in online bargain hunters.

Those shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday should beware because spam and phishing campaigns will be the order of the day, says a blog post from online security company Avira.

Penned by IT security expert Sorin Mustaca, the post reminds readers to “stay alert.”

The campaigns to “lure users to buy various things at unbelievable prices before everyone else” have already begun. The problem, Mustaca says, is while a victim’s credit card is charged or PayPal account emptied, the item purchased never arrives.

“Always buy from websites which you or your friends know,” he warns. “Remember, not (all) online website ratings are real, the various ‘security checked’ seals can be easily faked and, most important of all, if something is too good to be true,” then it is likely a scam.

He is also advising people to avoid “offers” posted on social media sites. Those who do click on such “offers” will often find their inboxes inundated with spam.

Mustaca says shoppers should expect to see such campaigns throughout the Christmas season and into the New Year as well. He says they usually taper off in mid-January.

There are several steps consumers can take, however, to avoid being ripped off as they do their holiday shopping, says McAfee online security and safety evangelist Robert Siciliano.

Use credit cards and not debit cards

If a site turns out to be fraudulent, most credit card companies will reimburse victims for the money they are out. With debit cards, however, it is not so easy to get one’s money back.

“You don’t want your account to be drained while you’re sorting things out with your bank,” Siciliano warns, adding that, ideally, shoppers should use a one-time-use credit card, “which includes a randomly generated number that can only be used for a single transaction.”

Beware of fake websites

Watch for misspellings or typos in the URLs of well-known shopping sites. These typoed URLs can take consumers to fake websites which were created solely to scam unsuspecting shoppers.

Siciliano suggests consumers install a safe search plug-in on their browsers which will issue a warning if users go to a malicious site.

Review Policies of all eCommerce Sites Frequented

Always check to see how retailers use customer information. Do they share data with third parties?

“You should only disclose facts necessary to complete your purchase and not any additional information about yourself,” Siciliano says.

Also, ensure shipping policies are reasonable and will not inflate the purchase price.


Shoppers should only frequent online stores that use encryption — which means the URL starts with https:// instead of http:// — to ensure their data stays safe.

Siciliano says shoppers should only use devices and connections they trust. Never shop from an Internet cafe or library and always make sure the wireless connection being used is secure.

Protecting one’s device with up-to-date security software is also crucial in the defense against identity theft, viruses and online threats.

He also suggests consumers make themselves familiar with the ‘12 Scams of the Holidays.’


Jennifer Cowan is the Managing Editor for SiteProNews.