If You’re Shopping Online on Black Friday, the FBI Has a Warning for You



Obviously, Black Friday is traditionally the day that people storm their favorite retailers looking for the best deals of the year. But, more and more people are expected to skip shopping in person and simply look for deals online. 

Shopping online was already popular before the pandemic, but we’ve all gotten pretty used to having just about everything from toilet paper, to clothes, to toys delivered to our porch. Let’s face it, it’s a lot easier. Adobe estimates that people will spend as much as $6 billion shopping online on Thanksgiving day alone.

The FBI, however, has a warning if you’re planning on shopping online this holiday season: scams are at an all-time high, and the scammers are getting even more sophisticated. The warning comes from the Albuquerque, New Mexico field office, which says that online scams cost residents of that state alone more than $30 million  a year.

Here are a few tips that will help protect you from the bad guys this holiday season. Sure, they’re all common sense, but again, more and more people are falling victim to online shopping scams, so it seems like it might be worth a reminder. 

Never click on links from unknown senders.

One of the more common scams is to send what otherwise look like marketing emails from brands you know. It might be promoting a sale for popular items, but when you click on a link, it takes you to a scammer’s website, where the only thing you’re going to get is the headache of having to deal with your credit card information being stolen. Which, leads to the second common sense rule:

Beware of websites masquerading as legitimate retailers.

Scammers have gotten pretty good at making their fake websites look a lot like the real thing, but you can usually tell if you look closely. Always look for the little lock indicating you’re on a secure website, and check the URL to make sure it matches. If you’re on a scammer’s website, most likely the URL will be something completely different. Unless you’re really sure that the site is legitimate, it’s best to move on.

If it seems just too good to be true, it’s probably a scam.

Sometimes the website isn’t pretending to be Pottery Barn. Sometimes it’s just a company you’ve never heard of. As a rule, if a company you’ve never heard of is offering a deal you can’t find anywhere else, that should be a major red flag. If the deal seems too good to be true, there’s a good chance it’s a scam, and you should just stay away.

Use a credit card, not a gift card or other form of payment online

It’s tempting to use gift cards or payment services like Venmo when buying online. The problem is, those forms of payment offer far less protection if something goes wrong. 

Generally, using a credit card online is a safer way to pay for purchases for two reasons. The first is that if a seller never ships your order, you can dispute the charge with the credit card company. That makes it a lot less risky, since you’ll likely get your money back if you never get your order.

The other reason is that if a scammer steals your credit card information, most credit card companies make it pretty fast and easy to cancel the card and have a new one sent. While that’s still a bit of a hassle, it’s a lot better than if they had access to your checking account through a debit card. At least the charges on a credit card aren’t coming directly out of your checking account.

If you buy on Marketplace, meet in person.

Sometimes you can find great deals on sites like Facebook Marketplace. The key is to only shop for items that you can pick up in person. In that case, bring cash. Never pay in advance in anticipation of having something shipped. No deal is worth getting scammed.

The same goes for unloading items you don’t want. Buyers aren’t the only ones who get scammed online. If you’re selling something, be wary of buyers who offer extra to have you ship a product to a “son” or “friend” in another state. Again, if it’s too good to be true–you know the rest.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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