COMPUTER COLUMN: How to avoid all online shopping Christmas scams - Part 1

Donegal shoppers should follow these tips

Christmas Scams

Top Tips to avoid being scammed this Christmas

For example, in 2016 City of London police officers estimated about £10 million losses to these kinds of scams.

One victim lost £86,000 when they tried to purchase a boat from a fraudster on eBay, police said. That’s just a very tiny tip of a very big iceberg.

Only in Australia, a Commonwealth Bank report revealed that Aussie shoppers will spend $11 billion during the 2017 Holiday season.

Up to 13.3 million Australian citizens will also shop online. It stands to reason that the numbers are similar across developed nations, so protection against online shopping scams is essential.

We are surfing online looking for the perfect gift and so many options in front of us that we don’t know what to choose from. But are they real? 

Online scammers and IT criminals post fake ads and run websites they control in order to retrieve our online banking credentials and get access to our sensitive data.

To stay safe from this type of scam look for a few clues:
Is the advertised price too low to be true? Check the price for the item on other websites and see where it should be. Avoid any unusual payment system for an online item, like a money order or wire transfer.

If you choose to pay from the website’s payment system, look for details that could indicate you are on a hacker-controlled website.

There are cases when the scammers direct you to a fake payment site, so look at the URL of the page.

• Verify the Web address of the shopping sites you visit. There are many copycat websites of large retailers, especially this time of year.

• Beware of Websites with steep discounts on brand name or highly sought-after products.
If you’re visiting a Website you’re not familiar with and the prices seem too good to be true, they probably are.
Cybercriminals will purchase these products with stolen credit cards and quickly create a site to sell them at steep discounts. Or, you might place an order and never get anything.
In both cases, the thieves obtain your credit card details when you place an order.
Check domain registration sites like to find out when a Website was created and where it is registered. If the Website was created in the last few months, proceed with caution.

• Use caution when making purchases through advertisements on social media. Cybercriminals often place ads to phish for credit card information or to infect your computer or phone with malware. Use a search engine to verify the company name is legitimate, search for the company’s name + “reviews” and/or look in the comments of an add or post, as many times other consumers will comment if the ad is a scam.

• Only purchase gift cards from reputable businesses. Credit-card thieves love purchasing gift cards with stolen credit cards because many hold their value well and there is a thriving secondary market.

2. How to stay away from gift card scams
The holiday gift cards are usually promoted via the social media networks, like Facebook or Twitter, and claim to offer exclusive deals or hidden deals.

The problem appears when the gift card is fake and it’s just an excuse to ask the victim for its personal details or credit card numbers.

In the 2016 Holiday season, Amazon shoppers were tricked in droves by third-party sellers who used phishing and spoofed emails.

These malicious sellers lured consumers to leave the Amazon site at the time of payment via very convincing confirmation emails or gift card offers. Amazon itself stayed silent on this topic.

This year we will probably see even more ways of tricking consumers out of their hard-earned cash.

To avoid being fooled into buying a fake gift card, make sure you:
Don’t click suspicious links on social media sites, even when the  “special offer” comes from a friend.

Don’t fill online surveys that ask for your personal information.

Check the offer online if it’s just too good to be true. You can contact directly the official website of the producer or you can look it out on search engines and see what results appear.

The scammers usually target a large number of people and some results should appear, in case this is a real scam.
Pay special attention when buying small animals, mobile devices, cars or motorbikes, since they are some of the most used scamming items.

Don’t use Amazon gift card generator tools, websites or apps, they’re all scams.


3. How charity scams work and how to detect them

Christmas time is a good reason to be kind and generous with the less fortunate people around. That is why we find so many legitimate charity organizations appeal for money or food donations.

At the same time, it is a good cover-up for scammers and online crooks to steal your money. We also want to highlight sites that sell cheap trinkets while pretending to be a charity.

You probably saw something like it in the last week, when it appeared on your newsfeed promising a free octopus ring or a free glowing necklace.

Another example is Save Our Oceans NOW, who has 1 stars on TrustPilot but still continues to fool consumers.

Here’s how it works:

They claim to be an online store that donates to a charity or a charity selling wares to support itself

They offer a guaranteed freebie, you just have to pay shipping fees

You willingly give out all your sensitive personal info and pay a modest sum (5-10 dollars) for the product

If lucky, you receive the product you’re happy and advertise their scam to more friends. In the best case scenario, you got yourself a “free octopus ring”, after only paying 8 dollars in shipping fees.

Meanwhile, that ring costs around 50 cents in China and is delivered to you through a tactic called ‘dropshipping’.

That means the store you make your purchase at doesn’t actually have the products available, it just places an order on your behalf to a Chinese factory.

This factory processes your order and requires absolutely no shipping fee. 

The original store in which you placed your order has absolutely nothing to do with the product in question, it just gets your money and your data, then makes the manufacturer send you that product.

Dropshipping is a popular and respected e-commerce practice, but it also leaves room for shadiness like these scams.

Back to the Save Our Oceans one.

So you just paid for shipping and your money goes not to the shipping of the ring (because that’s free) or to a charitable cause because that’s the scam.

Your money goes to the website holders themselves.

In the process, if you haven’t paid by Paypal, you also willingly gave out your name, address, phone number and credit card info to the scammers.

They will use this data to target you with other scams as well, then sell their “customer” database to any takers (most of them with bad intentions).

To send your money in the right direction, take the following measures: Check if the website is genuine before sending your money. The site may use official logos and appear as real. This doesn’t mean it is.

Contact the real charity groups directly to make your donation. Do not donate anything to intermediary people or suspicious sites.

If you are approached by a charity group or person and you are in doubt, check online for the organization’s name or the person’s name who requested the money.

Never pay shipping for a “freebie” like this. Just use the money and buy the freebie directly from a reputable seller, it’s often much cheaper and safer for your personal information.


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