Don‘t Let Scams Steal Your Holiday Cheer: Expert Tips to Spot and Avoid the 10 Worst Black Friday Scams

The countdown to Black Friday is on! For deal-seekers, it‘s the most wonderful time of the year. Retailers compete to offer the biggest price cuts and steepest discounts on popular products. But criminals also see the frenzy around Black Friday as the perfect chance to scam shoppers who have their guard down.

As a cybersecurity expert with over a decade of experience in cloud data protection, I‘ve seen these online shopping scams pop up year after year. The good news? With awareness and smart precautions, you can enjoy getting a jump on your holiday shopping while avoiding the Grinches trying to steal your hard-earned money or personal information.

In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll explain the top 10 Black Friday scams making the rounds this holiday season and provide insider tips to help you detect and sidestep these deceptive schemes.

The top 10 Black Friday scams and how to beat them

The surge in online holiday shopping due to the pandemic led to increased instances of cyber fraud. According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), over $4.1 billion was lost to online scams in 2021 alone. As you seek out deals, be vigilant against these common ploys:

1. Fake coupons and vouchers

The lure of a good bargain can blind us to risk. Scammers take advantage of this by creating fake coupon codes and vouchers for major retailers. They promote the bogus deals on social media, forums, and scam sites.

To "claim" the fake coupons, you often have to complete a survey that extracts your personal information or download an attachment harboring malware. The coupons turn out to be unusable, if you even receive one at all.

How to beat it: Get coupon codes directly from retailer websites and emails rather than third-party sites. Be wary of coupons requiring upfront fees or personal details. Use antivirus software to detect malicious attachments.

2. Spoofed websites

Through a scheme called phishing, criminals create counterfeit websites nearly identical to legitimate online stores. From the branding to web layouts, the spoofed sites look convincingly real on the surface. But they exist solely to steal credit card and login details from unwitting shoppers lured in by seemingly amazing deals.

Losses related to web-based phishing scams amounted to $38 million in 2021.

How to beat it: Always verify you are on the real site before entering any sensitive info. Double check the URL, and look for the lock icon and "https" indicating a secure connection.

3. Account verification scams

Scammers are aware most people reuse the same passwords across multiple sites. They send out emails or texts pretending to be from major retailers claiming there is suspicious activity on your account.

The message urges you to verify account details immediately to avoid cancellation of your Black Friday orders. If you comply, you hand over your login credentials directly to criminals. Apple, Amazon, and other well-known brands are frequently impersonated.

How to beat it: Remember legitimate companies won‘t unexpectedly ask for your passwords or private information by email, text, or phone. If concerned about account activity, type the company site address directly into your browser and login to review.

4. Fake shipping notifications

As holiday delivery deadlines approach, shoppers anxiously await tracking updates on gifts and purchases. Scammers leverage this by sending fake shipping notifications claiming to be from UPS, FedEx, Amazon, or major retailers.

The text or email includes a link to track your “package.” But clicking delivers malware or leads to phishing sites aimed at stealing payment details. With more purchases comes more scam delivery alerts; be extra cautious when tracking holiday orders.

How to beat it: Avoid clicking any links. Log in directly to retailer accounts to view official shipping statuses. Confirm tracking numbers match ones provided at checkout.

5. Fake order confirmations

Don‘t be fooled by emails or texts regarding orders you never placed. Scammers send out fake order confirmations for big-ticket items knowing consumers will be primed to buy during Black Friday sales.

The message urges you to click a link or provide payment details to “cancel” the unauthorized order. Instead, you end up handing over personal information or financial account access directly to criminals.

With online spending on the rise, order confirmation scams have become more common. 86% of adults in the US have fallen for fraudulent transactions and lost money.

How to beat it: Routinely check your payment card statements and online accounts for unfamiliar charges. If you receive an order confirmation you didn’t place, contact the retailer directly through their official website.

6. Non-delivery fraud

Some schemers set up convincing mock retail websites that accept payments but never deliver promised products. The fake sites take advantage of high demand around Black Friday to lure deal-seekers.

By the time shoppers realize they’ve been scammed, the fraudulent sites have often disappeared. Reviews and pictures of past purchases on retailer sites help avoid this type of rip-off.

How to beat it: Vet unfamiliar sites thoroughly and look for reviews before providing payment info. Purchase only through secure payment methods that offer fraud protection. Avoid paying with gift cards, wire transfers, or other hard-to-trace methods.

7. Billing fraud

Watch out for emails or phone calls regarding unpaid bills or invoices for items you didn’t purchase. The scammers sound official and demand quick payment to avoid consequences like service suspension or legal action.

Whether the fraudulent bill claims you owe taxes, subscription fees, or other services, the urgency is meant to prompt you into paying without verifying the legitimacy of the notice.

How to beat it: Never rush into paying an unfamiliar or questionable bill, especially if payment methods like gift cards are demanded. Always independently look up contact info and directly contact the company to confirm any suspect invoices.

8. Gift card scams

For shoppers buying gift cards during the holidays, beware scammers trying to siphon off the balance. One common ploy pressures people into purchasing fraudulently obtained gift cards at a discount on social media or auction sites.

By the time the buyer tries to use the discounted gift card, its balance has already been drained by crooks. Or worse, some gift card scammers run sites that simply collect payment and ship nothing.

How to beat it: Only buy gift cards directly from the merchant‘s site or verified retailers. Avoid discounted resold gift cards, which are likely already used. Pay safely with credit rather than gift cards, wire transfers, or crypto.

9. Fake charities

Unfortunately, even charity scams surge before the holidays, with crooks creating convincing fake causes, relief funds, and other organizations to solicit donations.

Nearly 40% of all charitable contributions occur during the holidays. Sadly, a chunk of that goes directly into the pockets of scammers, not those in need. Vetting organizations at sites like Charity Navigator helps avoid getting duped.

How to beat it: Research charities thoroughly before giving. Legitimate organizations will happily provide their nonprofit identification number, details on programs, and use of donations.

10. Social media scams

Social networks like Facebook and Instagram provide fertile ground for Black Friday scammers. Watch for fraudulent ads, contests, or posts offering special coupons and deals, which often lead to phishing sites or services that never deliver promised products.

One 2021 scam promoted a 99% off sale, luring victims to a site mimicking a major retailer. Once credit info was collected, shoppers never received the deeply discounted products.

This holiday season, avoid shopping directly via social media and consistently think twice before clicking questionable links.

How to beat it: Shop directly on retailer sites, not through social media ads or posts. Verify deals and coupons directly with the merchant. And refrain from entering payment information after clicking social media links.

8 tips to shop safely online this Black Friday

While the sneaky schemes keep coming, you can enjoy grabbing holiday deals online while keeping your identity and hard-earned money protected. Follow these tips for safer shopping:

Look for site security – Only enter payment details and other sensitive information on sites using encryption, indicated by “https” in the URL and a lock icon.

Vet unfamiliar sites – Research new retailers thoroughly using reviews and complaints before providing payment info or shopping.

Create shopping accounts – Using guest checkouts exposes your data on multiple sites. Create unique accounts using secure passwords.

Use credit cards – Credit cards offer much stronger fraud protections than debit cards, wire transfers, gift cards, or crypto payments.

Keep device software updated – Ensure phones, computers, and tablets have the latest OS and security updates and anti-malware software enabled.

Avoid public WiFi – Never access financial accounts or enter payment information on public networks. They lack encryption.

Check statements routinely – Closely monitor financial and credit card statements routinely for unfamiliar charges indicating potential fraud.

Report problems immediately – If you suspect fraud, act quickly! Notify relevant institutions to dispute charges and lock down accounts.

Beware: Real-life examples of Black Friday fraud

While fictional scams might seem easier to spot, even savvy shoppers let their guard down during the holidays. Don‘t think it can‘t happen to you – real-life examples show these schemes affect victims everywhere:

  • Holly N. responded to a social media ad for a luxury bag offered at a steep 80% off discount for Black Friday. After completing the transaction via bank transfer, Holly never received the purchase. Authorities attributed it to a Hong Kong-based scam site.

  • Chase Bank flagged hundreds of fraudulent charges for Andy R. the Monday after Cyber Monday, tracing them back to a data breach at a major retailer he shopped at over the holiday weekend.

  • Elaine V. received a phone alert from her credit card company about thousands in jewelry purchases she never made. Turns out a phishing link she‘d clicked in a Black Friday email led to her payment card details being stolen.

  • Jack S. bought four $100 gift cards to give as holiday presents but never got the cards he paid for, losing over $400 to a scam site claiming discounted Black Friday gift cards.

Black Friday Scam FAQs

Let’s explore a few frequently asked questions on how to enjoy worry-free savings this holiday shopping season:

Is it safe to shop the Black Friday sales on Facebook or Instagram?

I advise caution when shopping directly via social media. Scammers easily create fake accounts and posts to scam users with fraudulent deals. Verify offers by going directly to retailer websites. And avoid entering payment info through any social media links.

What do I do if I suspect a purchased gift card was used before I got it?

Unfortunately, fraudsters steal and drain gift card numbers at alarming rates. If your gift card balance comes up empty, report it immediately to the retailer. Provide the gift card number and receipt showing it was newly purchased. They can investigate and restore the balance if it was indeed fraudulent.

Are text alerts about Black Friday coupons and deals legit or scams?

My rule of thumb is to ignore promotional text messages that you didn’t sign up to receive from a retailer. Blindly clicking links or providing information in unsolicited texts is risky. Instead, get deals directly through trusted retailer websites and emails.

How can I get my money back if I paid for an item that never arrived?

If you fell victim to a non-delivery scam, call your credit card provider right away, provide transaction details, and request a chargeback. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, credit card users have protections for items never delivered. The sooner you report fraud, the better.

Don’t let scams ruin your holiday!

As you gear up for the amazing Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, I hope these tips and scam insights better prepare you to detect and deflect schemes aiming to steal your money or personal data. Stay vigilant this holiday season!

Remember to shop only on secure sites, think twice before clicking links or attachments, pay only through protected methods, monitor statements routinely, and question anything suspicious. Trust your gut, and don‘t let the Grinches dampen your holiday shopping spirit!

Luis Masters

Written by Luis Masters

Luis Masters is a highly skilled expert in cybersecurity and data security. He possesses extensive experience and profound knowledge of the latest trends and technologies in these rapidly evolving fields. Masters is particularly renowned for his ability to develop robust security strategies and innovative solutions to protect against sophisticated cyber threats.

His expertise extends to areas such as risk management, network security, and the implementation of effective data protection measures. As a sought-after speaker and author, Masters regularly contributes valuable insights into the evolving landscape of digital security. His work plays a crucial role in helping organizations navigate the complex world of online threats and data privacy.