We may have just gone on a shopping spree during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but many of us are still gearing up to shop for the holidays, with much of the activity occurring online. According to the 2017 Deloitte holiday retail survey, 84 percent of shoppers will be using laptops, desktops, smartphones and social media to tackle their list this year. While e-commerce may be more convenient and often more discount-friendly (hello, promo codes!) than shopping in-store, it also carries more risk. Scammers are all over the web and this is their favorite time of year; in 2016, fraud attempts during the holiday season spiked by 31 percent, data from ACI Worldwide shows.
We consulted consumer protection experts to highlight the most common scams being seen so far this holiday season, and provided tips on how to avoid them:
1. The Gift Card Scam
A new survey by WalletHub found that for the eleventh consecutive year, gift cards top the list of popular presents, with 41 percent of Americans saying that’s what they want for the holidays. Unfortunately, gift cards are also a favorite target for thieves, not only in-store, but also online.
“As the demand for gift cards has exploded in the past five years, we’ve seen the emergence of gift card exchanges,” says Michael Lai, CEO of Sitejabber, an online business review platform. “These are platforms that allow you to sell your unused gift cards at a discount.”
It’s a great idea, but the problem is that often these gift cards don’t ever show up — or they arrive already used. You risk getting either less than you thought you were getting, or nothing at all. This is because, as Lai explains, “gift cards have a barcode or a number that once exposed, can be used by anyone.”
The safest way to shop for a discounted gift card is to go through a site that has a clearly stated guarantee policy. “Reputable sites are addressing this very issue, so read the fine print.” But your best bet is paying full price from the actual retailer.
2. The Counterfeit Goods Scam
Can’t believe you’re getting those new Christian Louboutin pumps 75 percent off the retail price? Hold off the celebration and do some investigating. They may be knock-offs.
“Counterfeit goods have been a problem persistently in the e-commerce space for a while, but it tends to flare up around this time,” says Lai. “We’ve seen people write reviews on sites selling these [heavily discounted brand name] gifts where they’ve returned the item in-store and the retailer says, ‘This isn’t one of our products.’”
Lai says this is especially common on “boutique websites or those that have flash sales.” Before purchasing, make sure you’re going through a well-reviewed outlet that’s based in the U.S.
3. The E-Holiday Card Scam
Any scam is awful, but this one may take the cake for the meanest. Fraudsters are sending out what look like digital holiday cards to your email, but are, in fact, ways to rob you.
As Aaron Higbee, CTO and Co-Founder of PhishMe notes, these emails appear to be coming from any popular e-Card site and include a link for you to view the card, but the link is malicious.
“There are a few ways to tell the e-Card is a fraud including the sender email address seems off, the email is not personalized to the recipient or when you hover your cursor over the link it doesn’t match the website it says it is from,” says Higbee.
4. The Corrupt Coupon Scam
There are a ton of sites that deal solely in providing users with coupon and promotional discount codes to use when online shopping. Thieves have latched on to the trend. The key is to not enter any personal information.
“The best coupon websites do not require you to buy anything or register to use their coupons,” says Lai. “If you have to enter in your personal information, it might be a phishing scam. Giving away your cell phone number just to get a coupon code may also be a bad idea as you could get bombarded with marketing calls.”