Catch Of The Week: Tis The Season For Cyber Shopping Scams

Los Alamos

Oh boy, Thanksgiving! That means it’s time for … online shopping!

Time to scoop up some sweet bargains on hot items like gaming equipment, toys, electronics, and more, right? Just be careful out there, and make sure you don’t get scammed.

Here are some tips for safer online shopping:

  • If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is a scam. If you are scrolling Facebook and you see an offer for a PlayStation 5 for just $99.99, click here RIGHT NOW…do not click. Fake ads leading consumers to fake shopping websites are way too common, and you will end up losing those hard, saved Xmas funds, and padding some cyber crooks pockets. When doing your online shopping, avoid clicking ads on social media sites. Firstly, those guys have enough money, don’t feed the machine!  Secondly, social media sites are rife with fake shopping sites and opportunities to get scammed. Just go directly to the company’s website to make your purchase.  
  • Watch out for phishing emails that look like order confirmations and sales notices!  If you get a notification that your item has shipped, click here to track or about a special sale. – don’t click that link. Instead, go directly to the company’s website to check your account, view the shipping info, or check out the sale. Fake shipping and sale notifications are some of the biggest phishing scams out there, and it’s not worth the risk.  
  • Especially popular with scammers- anything Amazon-themed. It might look legit, but you will see clues that it’s not if you look closely.  Look for spell/grammar errors, odd sender email, and links that do not go to an Amazon site. Fake Amazon shipping notifications are rampant this year, so be careful! Always go directly to the Amazon site and login to your account if you have questions, don’t click the link.
  • Always do your online shopping with a credit card, never with your debit card. Credit cards offer protection against scams usually not provided by a debit card, plus they are not directly linked to your bank account. If you do fall for a scam, you don’t want your bank account on the hook for it.
  • Be cautious of “One Day Only” sales notifications from popular name brands.  You might see these on social media or websites or get emails about them. These are scams, don’t click the link! If you are curious about the sale, go directly to the company’s website by typing it into your browser.  
  • Watch out for fake gift exchanges like “secret sister,” etc., on social media websites. These are pyramid schemes where you agree to exchange gifts and “pay it forward.”  Also, scammers can potentially get your personal information from this and use it to target you later for phishing and other cyber scams. 
  • Guess what you can do to protect yourself from these and so many other scams?  Use strong, secure, unique passwords for all of your online accounts! And protect as many as possible with 2FA (two-factor authentication). This protects your account with an additional authentication factor; usually, an OTP (one-time-password) is sent via text message or obtained from an authentication app like Google’s. Why is 2FA so important? If your account doesn’t have 2FA on it and a cybercriminal cracks your password, they can log in to your account and own it. If your account does have 2FA, then unless they can somehow steal that second factor of authentication, they are out of luck and unable to access the account, even with your password.  

So get on out there and stimulate the economy, but keep in mind that scammers are ready and waiting to grab whatever they can from Black Friday and Cyber Monday madness. Be aware, don’t click that link, and have a happy Thanksgiving!

Editor’s note: Becky Rutherford works in information technology at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

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