Don’t be fooled this holiday season. Here’s what you should pay attention to – Chicago Tribune

Scammers may always be present online, but when the holidays come around, they start to heat up.

That’s because “all stars stand in” for bad actors, Mark Ostrowski said Program check point, an online security company. Shopping sprees, big sales and charity appeals create many opportunities for fraudsters to entice people to click on malware, divulge sensitive personal information and cough up money in response to fraudulent emails and texts.

You don’t have to be a Grinch to protect yourself from these scammers, but you should be skeptical of the unsolicited emails and texts you receive — something you should be doing year-round, frankly. While you’re at it, keep in mind what scammers like to do during the holidays and how your online activities inevitably put you at greater risk.

Here are some tips from Ostrowski, Norton researcher Kevin Roundy and other experts on holiday scams to watch out for and the kinds of practices that can keep you safe.

In the days before Amazon, holiday shopping meant wading through the crowds at the mall or local shopping district. And for the avid bargain hunters among us, that meant spending hours in line until the wee hours of the morning hoping to snag a crazy cheap TV or game console.

Some of it still happens – witnesses madness two years ago by people trying to purchase a Sony Playstation 5, but a large portion of personal holiday shopping gave way to online sales. This means that more people are looking for deals online and having their parcels delivered to their home, which means more opportunities for fraudsters to pretend to be new online retailers or impersonate well-known delivery services.

This was calculated by the research group Check Point 1 out of every 6 emails are malicious shipped in the first 10 days of this month were shipping scams. They often convey urgency to get you to carelessly click on a link – for example, saying there’s a shipping problem that you need to resolve immediately. And when you click on that link, you’ll either download malware to your device, or you’ll land on a site that tries to extract your sensitive personal information.

These scams are common because they are effective. Is there anything harder to resist than a message purporting to be from UPS with a link to a tracking number? Or is FedEx telling you that you have a “shipping exception”? I think not. But it is necessary to resist.

You can try to identify fake emails by carefully checking the sender’s address for a domain that does not match the shipping company’s address, or by scanning the email for spelling and grammatical errors. Better yet, just ignore the emails and go to the shipping company’s website instead, where you can enter the tracking number the seller gave your purchase. This way you can easily and safely find any information you need about your package.

You’re probably tired of the phrase, “If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.” But just because it’s corny doesn’t make it any less true. And it’s especially important this time of year when scammers set up traps specifically for bargain hunters.

The problem, Roundy said, is that we tend to let our guard down during the holidays. “Slightly more than 1 in 3 American adults admit to taking more risks during the holiday season,” he said; unsurprisingly, more than a third fell victim to shopping scams, with an average loss of $387.

Here’s an example of a scam you might encounter this year. In the second week of November alone, Check Point Research found that nearly 15,000 fake websites were created to offer discount designer handbags. In addition to stealing sensitive personal information such as credit card numbers, such sites may also try to sell you fake Louis Vuitton, Dior and Balenciaga at an inflated price.

Black Friday sales from retailers like Best Buy and Walmart have made people stop believing prices that seem unbelievably low. Still, Roundy said, when you see a popular product being offered at a huge discount, you have to ask yourself if it makes sense for a legitimate seller to do so.

You also can’t assume that an unknown retailer is on the rise just because it has an elaborate website with thousands of products. “Fraudsters put a tremendous amount of effort into their sites,” Roundy said. “Many of our intuitions fail us, so we have to be very careful at this time of year.”

The wisdom of the crowd can help protect you from fake online stores. Roundy suggested copying the domain name of an unknown website from the address bar in your browser, then searching for the term along with the word “scam” or “review.”

Users are quick to share their suspicions on sites like Reddit and ScamAdvisor. Roundy said well-known sites are likely to have a lot of customer feedback, although that can also be hacked. Scam sites usually have either a lot of bad reviews or chunks of bad reviews mixed in with a series of short and very positive ones that are believed to have been posted by a scammer.

He said it’s also important to check the ratings of individual sellers on platforms like EBay and Amazon Marketplace, which can help distinguish the trustworthy from the untrustworthy.

Social som, which offers fraud detection services for a fee, said game consoles and discounted gift cards are two common lures used by scammers who will take your money and give you … nothing. Check the URL to make sure you’re buying electronics from the retailer’s site and not a fake with similar spelling, Social Catfish says, and get your gift cards directly from the source.

(Even if the discount gift card you buy is a real card, Roundy said, the seller could be laundering money for an illegal enterprise. After all, why would a legitimate business owner sell you something with a cash value of $100 for less than $100 dollars? )

Reverse image search like the one offered by Social Catfish or the free Google Google Lens can also help protect you from fraud on specialized websites or trading platforms such as eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace. If a seller posts a photo of what is supposed to be a real item — say, a puppy or a designer dress — save a duplicate image to your computer or smartphone, then upload it to a reverse image search site. A search can detect if a seller has copied a photo from someone else’s site, which would be a giant red flag.

Another problem for bargain hunters is counterfeit goods and “gray market” products — versions that companies sell outside the United States at lower prices but whose warranties may not apply here. Amazon has a well documented history of counterfeit goods sold on its site, although the e-commerce giant said in June that it was spending more on the problem and see better results.

Launched in 2012, Giving Tuesday is a global effort by a network of non-profit organizations to promote philanthropy. Countless organizations are now asking for donations for the organization’s annual Giving Tuesday celebration, which will take place on November 29 this year.

Many of these appeals will end up in your inbox. Unfortunately, your inbox can also be collecting messages from scammers who use email as their primary tool to find victims, Roundy said.

According to AARP, you’re more likely to run into a charity scam this holiday season than any other type of scam. almost 40% people interviewed were told they had received an offer from a fictitious charity.

One method scammers use, Roundy said, is to send you an email from a popular charity thanking you for past donations and asking for help again. The link in the email will take you to the scammer’s fake website, not the charity’s website, where they can try to steal sensitive personal information as well as money.

Scammers may also tie their appeals to a recent headline-grabbing tragedy or emergency, Roundy said, and may set up a fraudulent GoFundMe site to extort money from genuine victims. Or they may use fraudulent social media accounts to make fake offers based on the celebrity’s real charity work.

The best defense against this type of scam, Roundy said, is not to try to donate through a link in an email, text or social media post. Instead, go to the charity’s website and donate directly.

You can also look for the same clues in charity-related emails as you would in any spam, he said, such as misspellings, grammatical errors and odd phrases. Fake charities often try to trick you by using names that look like legitimate organizations, Roundy said: “It might sound official, but it’s not quite the real thing.”

To promote safe giving, some employers create Giving Tuesday portals on their websites to direct donations (and possibly matching contributions) to charities they’ve vetted.

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Alternatively, you can also do your own research on unfamiliar charities. Internal Revenue Service database of tax-exempt organizations it is one of the data rich resources. More user-friendly search tools it offers Charity navigator, Charity watch and Better Business Bureauhowever, will give you an idea of ​​how well the charity is run, in addition to a reality check.

For more guidance, the Federal Trade Commission offers tips for how to avoid charity scamsincluding Giving Tuesday cheats. The IRS also offers pointers for have a safe tuesday.

One thing all types of online fraudsters have in common is that they prefer to get paid in ways that cannot be reversed. So if someone doesn’t let you pay with a credit card, that’s a cause for concern.

Rule #1 is not to do business with people who ask for payment with gift cards. It is a favorite of fraudsters around the world because the money cannot be returned or traced.

By the way, paying through Zelle isn’t much better, given that the system doesn’t offer refund assistance to scammers. When you pay someone through Zelle, it’s no different than handing them cash.

Rule #2 is not to do business with people who ask for payment outside of the platform they use to sell their products. Selling platforms like EBay, Etsy, and StockX offer ways to get your money back if you’ve been scammed, but only if you use their payment services. If the seller tries to convince you to send money directly, this is a signal.

PayPal and Venmo can be your allies here, as long as your purchase is covered by their buyer protection programs. This is a guarantee available by default in PayPal; on Venmo, you’ll need to verify your purchase suitable for protection, then select this option at checkout.

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