With Black Friday and Cyber Monday fast approaching, shoppers are getting excited about the wide range of sales and deals the extended Thanksgiving weekend brings.
But with holiday shopping comes a downside in the form of scams aimed at thrifty folks looking to stretch their dollars. It's an unfortunate and disheartening fact that though it's the season for giving, it is also often a time for taking, and for scammers to thrive.
Scambook, a leading complaint resolution website, has compiled a list of top Black Friday and Cyber Monday scams from last year that are likely to re-emerge for the 2013 season to strike shoppers in their wallets.
"Whether consumers are shopping online or in stores, scammers are getting ready to exploit the holiday shopping season as consumers hunt for the best deals," Scambook wrote via email. "To prevent consumers from falling victim to holiday scams and fraud, Scambook would like to remind the public about some of the top holiday scams from last season that are expected to return in the same form, or with slight variations."
Here's a breakdown of some of the top Black Friday and Cyber Monday scams outlined by Scambook:
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1. Free Best Buy Gift Card Scam: Last year, scammers were able to rip off unwitting consumers by texting them that if they entered a code either on BestBuyContest.com, BestBuyWin.net or via text, they would receive a free $1,000 Best Buy gift card, Scambook reports. The scam is likely to return this year, though it could be easily amended to use any retailers' name, so beware of any such "free gift card scam." It seems that there really is no such thing as a free lunch, or gift card.
2. Fake Ads and Coupons: Black Friday and Cyber Monday are huge days for coupon-clippers, but be sure to verify whether any ads or coupons you hope will save you a few bucks at stores like Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy are actually official publications of the stores and not the products of scammers looking to make an easy dollar off your trust. In this scam, websites offering free downloadable coupons and previews of ads detailing what deals will be offered by what stores are actually just fronts for phishing schemes, which install malware on, and take personal information from, Web users' computers.
3. Fake eCards and Videos: These scams are not limited to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, instead applying throughout the holiday season. In these scenarios, a phishing account on Twitter or Facebook, or even just an email account, will send holiday- or shopping-themed videos to unsuspecting people. Once these emails are opened and their contents downloaded onto users' computers, their nefarious side emerges, infecting systems and perhaps even stealing information that can lead to identity theft. One of the best an easiest ways to avoid becoming a victim of this scam is to be sure to open emails only from people and organizations you know and trust.
4. Internet Searches: Even the savviest email watchers and coupon collectors can easily fall victim to search engine scams. Through the use of various techniques, fraudsters get their websites promoted to the top of Google or other search engines, giving browsers the impression that they are real, sanctioned websites. Often they may be related to Black Friday deals or other pertinent topics, but upon clicking on them, they can cause viruses or other malware to be installed on visitors' computers. Fox News reported last year that some big scam websites to watch out for include GetSigned, BidQuick, BidOnline and BlackFridayWatch, and suggested being particularly wary of sites touting deals on hot new items like the Apple iPhone 5c and 5s, the iPad Mini Retina and new cellphone models, but these are all just the tip of the iceberg, so be careful.
In the end, there is really no limit to the number of ways scammers can harm shoppers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday or any other time of year, and a new version of scam will likely emerge just in time for the 2013 holiday shopping season. But by exercising caution, shoppers can hopefully avoid the most egregious of these fraudulent schemes.