Personal Finance

Avoid these 3 holiday scams on Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Key Points
  • U.S. sales online are expected to hit $207 billion this holiday shopping season, a record, according to Adobe. A big chunk (about 17%) will occur between Black Friday to Cyber Monday.
  • Online shopping accounted for about 58,000 Covid-related consumer fraud reports through Oct. 18 this year, more than any other fraud category, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Fake retailers, social media scams and missing package scams are among the common frauds to watch for this holiday season.
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Black Friday and Cyber Monday are almost here — and consumers shopping for the winter holidays should be on the lookout for online scams.

U.S. sales online are expected to hit $207 billion this holiday shopping season, between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, according to Adobe. That's a record and a 10% jump over 2020, a year in which the Covid pandemic pushed more consumers to shop digitally.

Cyber weekend — the period from Black Friday to Cyber Monday — will draw about 17% of all sales this holiday season, Adobe estimates.

Seventy-five percent of American adults anticipate their e-commerce through big retailers like Amazon or Walmart will be similar to or increase relative to the 2020 holiday season, according to a recent AARP survey.

Shoppers can expect discounts in late December, early 2022: Forrester Research analyst
Shoppers can expect discounts in late December, early 2022: Forrester Research analyst

Criminals will likely try to take advantage of the volume — and of unwary consumers.

Online shopping accounted for about 58,000 Covid-related consumer fraud reports from January 2020 to Oct. 18 this year, more than any other category of fraud, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Consumers lost a total $48 million.

"We are entering a sensitive holiday and tax period, and we urge people to protect their personal information," IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said Friday in an alert, which warned of potential identity thieves using that data to file fraudulent tax returns.

Here are three common scams to watch for around this time of year.

Fake retailers

Fake retailers using bogus websites may lure consumers with ads for big sales on popular gifts that are out of stock or hard to find elsewhere, according to Social Catfish, an online security site.

The issue may be more present than past years due to supply-chain issues and higher prices for some goods. Consumers are expected to pay 9% more during Cyber Week, on average, in 2021 relative to 2020, according to Adobe.

"Out-of-stock notifications have remained high throughout 2021 and will remain a challenge over the season," Adobe said in its annual holiday shopping forecast.

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There are some telltale signs of fraud: A fake site's domain name will have an extraneous letter or number, and the site may have grammatical errors or limited contact information, according to Social Catfish.

Consumers should research unfamiliar companies and read customer reviews, or search for the company name online along with the word "scam," Social Catfish advised. Also, don't buy a product via wire transfer, money order or gift card.

Social media scams

Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube are "becoming hotbeds for deception," according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The platforms have amplified harmful content during the pandemic, the federal agency said.

Around the holidays, brands and influencers typically offer free product giveaways on Instagram, according to Social Catfish. Scammers may advertise the chance to win a holiday prize but include malicious links in Instagram posts and steal consumers' personal data.

About 38% of consumers reported making a purchase in the past 12 months by clicking on a social media ad — which could lead them to a cloned site of a legitimate store or download malicious software onto one's device, according to AARP.

Consumers should be wary of social media accounts without a blue checkmark (platforms use these to verify a real page from copycats) and watch for typos and accounts with little other content, according to Social Catfish.

Missing package scam

Consumers aren't necessarily safe even after buying something — product delivery is also fertile ground for fraud.                                                 

Scammers may pretend to be from FedEx or another shipping firm, sending a text or e-mail with a link to track the package, according to Social Catfish. But clicking the link allows criminals to steal the consumer's personal and financial information. Fraudsters may also leave voicemails or place a "missed delivery" tag on a consumer's door with a number to call to verify their information.

About a third of adults have received a fake notification from someone saying they are from USPS, FedEx, or UPS about a shipment issue, according to AARP.

Never click a link or call back a number from an unexpected delivery notice, Social Catfish cautioned. Contact the company directly using a verified number or website.