There once was a time when the biggest shopping scams were overpriced department stores and fake purses. But now shoppers should be on alert for Cyber Monday, which creates a whole new arena for ripping you off.
“All signs point to 2012 being the biggest year yet for scammers,” said Mark Risher, the chief executive of business security provider Impermium, in an email to VentureBeat. “In the week leading up to Cyber Monday, we’ve already seen a five-time increase in the amount of shopping-related spam across social networks.”
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Cyber Monday is a term the National Retail Federation created in 2005 to call attention to all the online shopping you’ll probably be doing on the Monday after Thanksgiving, when you’re back at work and failing to be productive. Over time, it’s turned into a semi-big deal, with lots of discounts, coupons, and other bargains.
Cyber criminals go where the money is and where the easiest targets are, and Cyber Monday brings both of these together. People are on the hunt for good deals, and they are prepared to spend their dollars. It’s an ideal opportunity for a criminal to slip in and get you to click on a fake deal — the Internet equivalent to “Psst, hey, there are some Louis Vuitton bags down that alleyway.”
Indeed, social media is going to be hit hard with fake deals and likely even viruses that spread messages heralding savings. Criminals like to target social media because you inherently trust posts from your friends. If they can post a status to your friend’s Facebook wall on your behalf, he’s likely to believe it’s you that posted the status update, and click the link.
Pinterest users should also watch out. We saw a rash of Pinterest scams in March in which clicking a picture on its network leads to a spammy website. Since then, Pinterest is doing better at blocking these websites. It also tells you if you are being redirected to a different site when you click on a pin. Still, click with care.
Shoppers should be wary of public Wi-Fi hotspots. With smartphones today, a lot of people shop in malls, doing comparison shopping. According to a study by security company McAfee, 73 percent of Americans feel comfortable using public Wi-Fi, and 54 percent of Americans plan on using their phones to shop this holiday season. But you never know who is snooping the traffic on that hotspot that advertises itself as “free public Wi-Fi,” collecting all the data you’re transmitting.
Be sure to only make payments over a secure Internet connection to avoid getting your information — and maybe even identity — stolen.
According to Risher, the concerns about mobile shopping don’t end there.
“Mobile devices present an extra problem, because the small screens make it difficult for users to see where a link is leading” unlike on a desktop browser, where users can hover over the link to see its true destination, Risher said. “In these circumstances, users should be extremely cautious about entering their username or password on any pages they reach through a click. When in doubt, always browse to the site directly or use a bookmark to ensure against phishing and fraud.”
Bitdefender, a Romanian anti-virus company, says shoppers should look out for any offers of a “Platinum Card for Cyber Monday” advertisements. These are fake and infect the computer with malware when clicked.
If you do fall for one of these scams, Risher says to pay close attention to your credit card statements for any unusual activity.
“In addition, customers should ensure their anti-virus software is up-to-date and running regularly, as many shady sites can also harbor viruses and malware,” Bitdefender advises.