Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2012 are right around the corner. If you’re a smart shopper, you’re already looking for leaked ads online and strategizing how to get the best deals on clothes, hot electronics, toys and all the most-wanted gifts this holiday season. But bargain hunters beware! Fraudsters are capitalizing on Black Friday and Cyber Monday to lay traps for unsuspecting consumers. Scambook is predicting a sharp rise in fraud schemes surrounding must-have items like the Furby and iPad Mini, fake gift cards, online deals and more. We’ll be delivering a variety of Black Friday/Cyber Monday stories and videos all November, and we’re kicking off our special coverage with the Scambook Guide to Black Friday Fraud 2012. Protect yourself this holiday season and don’t get caught by fraud.
Hot Gifts Could Leave You in the Cold
Retail fraud always follows consumer demand. That’s why there are millions of knock-off iPhones but you rarely hear about counterfeit typewriter ribbons. It takes a lot of time and energy to execute a fraud scheme, so criminals keep their fingers on the consumer pulse and set their targets accordingly. If you’re interested in a hot item, you need to be extra careful when you shop.
Experts are predicting that the Most Wanted holidays gifts for 2012 will be:
- Tablet PCs and e-readers, like the Microsoft Surface, the Apple iPad Mini, Samsung Galaxy and the Amazon Kindle
- Kids’ toys, including Furbys, Ninja Turtles action figures, LeapPad2 Explorer, Winx Club, Monster High dolls, My Little Pony and MEGA Bloks
- Video games, such as the Nintendo Wii U console, Xbox Kinect, Call of Duty Black Ops 2, Assassin’s Creed 3 and Halo 4
All of these items will be hard to find as the holidays approach. If you can’t find the gifts on your list in a local store like Walmart or Target, and trusted online retailers like Amazon run out of stock, you might be tempted to turn to eBay, Craigslist and other websites. If you can’t avoid these alternate markets, always search for the seller on Scambook before you buy anything. Fraudsters may take your money, deliver a broken or counterfeit product or simply leave you empty-handed.
The bad guys will also use hacking techniques that capitalize on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We expect a wave of phishing emails, smishing texts, social media hacks and malicious ads that will use hot deals and leaked ads to get unsuspecting users to download viruses. Make sure you’ve got antivirus software installed on your computer, don’t download email attachments from unfamiliar sources and always use secure Internet browsers like Firefox and Google Chrome.
Don’t Count on Gift Card Discounts
Gift card fraud will be another trend around Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We’re already seeing a steep rise in smishing (unsolicited spam text messages) about free $1000 Best Buy gift cards. Cell phone users are being texted about winning these gift cards in contests they didn’t enter and they’re directed to a website that attempts to extract their personal information and credit card info. Our data analysis shows that the Best Buy smishing attack will peak around Black Friday, costing users up to $40,000 in estimated damages. We expect other retail gift cards, like Walmart, to be used in similar attacks.
Last year, an aggressive phishing email promised recipients a free $50 iTunes gift card.
The email spoofed Apple’s brand and appeared to be from the iTunes Store, but users who downloaded the attachment infected their computer with a virus. These electronic gift card schemes circulate all year, but they’re worse during the holiday shopping season because fraudsters know you’re extra eager for retail goods. They’re hoping that you’ll be so desperate for a good deal that you won’t think twice about a consumer trap. Don’t let your hunt for a bargain cloud your judgment.
Consumers also need to watch out for third-party sellers offering gift cards online, especially if they’re “discounted.” It’s easy for thieves to create counterfeit gift cards or falsify the card balance, leaving you with a worthless piece of plastic. Only buy gift cards directly from the retailer or a store like Target that sells gift cards to other chains. Examine the card carefully before you buy it. If there’s a security strip on the back of the card and it’s already been scratched off, the card has been tampered with and you might get ripped off.
Layaway Doesn’t Always Pay
Some Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales may offer layaway options for big ticket items like home theater systems and computers. While layaway isn’t outright fraud, the terms and conditions can be misleading. You may have to pay certain fees upfront and there can be penalties for missing a payment deadline. If you decide to cancel, you may be charged for a restocking fee. Ask for the layaway contract and read it carefully before you sign up.
Online layaway has become another popular trend for retailers and we’re predicting that fraudsters will get in on the action in 2012. Don’t sign up for a layaway site without doing your research on Scambook first. It’s a big red flag if a layaway website asks you to pay for something via cashier’s check, money order or wire transfer. Layaway can be a great option for consumers who don’t want to spend lots of cash or rack up a big credit card bill, but as with any financial decisions, you need to do your homework.
Know Your Rights
Before you solidify your shopping plans for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with your rights as a consumer. Read the terms and conditions for your credit cards. Talk to your bank and get their policy for fraudulent or disputed charges. Remember to read all Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales ads very carefully, too. Many retail chains alter their normal returns and exchange procedures for items purchased during Black Friday weekend. Click here to watch our video about how to dispute unauthorized credit card charges.
It’s never too early to protect yourself from fraud. Holiday shopping can be stressful enough without worrying that you’ve been ripped off or someone has stolen your credit card info! Stay tuned to the Scambook Blog for ongoing coverage of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We’ll be sharing our personal list of Top 5 Best Bargain Sites, exclusive holiday money-saving tips and more content to help you throughout the shopping season.
Are you excited about Black Friday and Cyber Monday? Share your thoughts in the comments!