A prime time for scammers.
The holiday season is a prime time for scammers as people become preoccupied with gift-buying, families, and festivities. It would seem that when it comes to all the busyness of the holidays, people tend let their guards down and fall prey to fraud.
The proliferation of online shopping makes it easy for fraudsters to target people by using fake advertisements for deals, phony websites – some even disguised as Christmas cards!
How online scams work.
While most online sellers are perfectly legitimate, unfortunately fraudsters are able to use the anonymous nature of the internet to defraud unsuspecting shoppers.
Here are some of the scams they use:
- Criminals are able to use the latest technology to set up fake shopping sites that look like genuine online stores. They are clever enough to make special designs and layouts, and possibly even use stolen logos. The purveyors of the fake sites are sophisticated enough to ask for payment by means of a money order, or even a prepaid money card. If you pay this way you may never see your money again, let alone receive your purchased item.
- Scammers may pose as genuine sellers on online classified websites which promote the sale of goods and services. They post fake ads for anything and everything, such as rental holiday properties, pets, used cars, boats, bike, caravans for family holidays, and even horses, which may appeal to animal lovers.
- They advertise their items, similar to those genuinely on the site, at much lower prices.
- If you have ad on a classified advert site for something you want to sell, scammers also pose as buyers and send a check for more than the required payment, then ask you to refund the difference. These are known as overpayment scams. Do not send the goods, and do not make any refund, as the check will be absolutely fake, and bounce higher than a rubber ball when you try to deposit it.
How to protect yourself.
- If you land on an unfamiliar website offering sweet deals on brand name products, be very wary, especially if asked for personal details, and they want a money transfer upfront for the goods. Google the site and look for reviews on the Better Business Bureau site. It could be a scam to steal your credentials and your money, even if it looks real good.
- Suppliers who claim to have bought in a large shipment of brand name goods at a special price, are probably trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Check the brand owner’s website to see what the recommended price of the product is. And if the price you have been offered is freakishly low in comparison, it is more than like a scam. Only the gullible will fall for this.
- Do not click on any offers for free gifts. Why would people you do not know want to give you money or gifts?
- If you agree to buy something from an unfamiliar retailer, before you agree to take delivery through an unknown shipper, the scammers who set up fake websites, also set up fake shipping company sites. They are clever enough to even set up fake tracking numbers. A good idea to check both sites is to go to whois.com and check if they are registered.
- The best way to protect yourself is to ignore sweet deals, and rather purchase from well-known, long-established companies, even if you pay much more than some of the fantastic scam offers coming through. Paying for scams means that you not only lose your money, but also that you will never ever get the goods.
Why people fall for scams?
During a holiday season like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year, folk get lost in the hype of thinking about family and friends that they are missing, and tend to be emotional about the time of the year. The fraudsters know this, and make use of applied psychology to play on the emotions of vulnerable people, whose judgement may be a little clouded at the time.
They use scams that exploit basic human needs and desires, and appeal to greed and the desire to get something for nothing.
Here are a few of the ways they use.
- Holiday scams are often personalized to make the offer look unique to the recipient.
- Scam victims are led by the nose to focus on a large reward, compared to the small amount of money they have to send to get the massive windfall.
- At certain times of the year, like the big holidays, scam victims have reported being less able to resist emotions associated with scam offers. They say that they seem to have been unduly open to persuasion, and not very discriminating about who they allow to persuade them into dubious deals.
- Fraudsters also appeal to a victim’s trust in authority. They make the offer look entirely authentic and legitimate, as if it is being made by a reliable official institution, or an established reputable business.
The way to protect yourself when feeling a bit emotional, is not to respond to anything online until you have reset your emotions, and are once more on an even keel, with sound judgement.
Some general warnings- no matter what the season!
- When making online payments, use a secure payment service such as Paypal, or look for a URL starting with https and a closed padlock symbol.
- Do not use virtual currencies such as Bit Coin.
- Don’t buy any medical products that often make false promises about cure-all products, magical treatments, or bargain-priced medicines. Your health will not improve. It may only get worse when you do not receive any of the miracle goods you have paid for.
- Stay permanently away from any over-sweet deals. They will only turn sour when you have lost your hard-earned money paid for non-existent goods.
The digital advances have given the world a way to access any information needed to make online life easier, promote business, connect with people thousands of miles away, and of course there are computers which can control satellites, fly spacecraft and planes. The list is endless.
But for the man in the street, it has created a cyber monster, called Identity theft, which can attack you at any turn.
There are companies that can help you avoid falling victim to attacks. But at the end of the day, it will be your own vigilance and awareness that will see you through.