How can I protect myself against scams on Black Friday and Cyber Monday?
Shopping online for Black Friday has become as popular as shopping online on Cyber Monday. When venturing out to shop, however, much of the same advice can help keep your identity safe from scammers. Although scammers often target shoppers on the internet, identity theft can happen in ways you might not expect while you are out. It can help to be on the lookout for common scams and security risks.
Avoid public Wi-Fi when shopping online
Public Wi-Fi networks do not require you to enter a password, but they may offer convenience at the expense of security. If you make purchases while connected to a public Wi-Fi network, you might be exposing your personal financial information to scammers. A private Wi-Fi network or your phone’s cellular network is typically much more secure.
Beware of email or text message offers and pop-up ads
No matter what type of network you use, scammers may still be able to send emails or text messages that look like they came from a reputable source. Clicking on a link or opening an attachment might give the scammers access to information that they can use to defraud you. The same goes for some pop-up ads that appear in your web browser. You may want to double-check that you are logging into a legitimate website or online banking portal, and not a scammer’s copycat version.
Use cash or a credit card
When shopping in person, paying with cash is the most secure way to protect your identity when making a purchase. However, you may not have the same protections a credit card may offer if a seller refuses to accept a return or you are scammed. If you have to use a payment card, a credit card is usually safer than a debit card for both in-person and online transactions. The Fair Credit Billing Act typically prevents you from being held responsible for a fraudulent credit card charge over $50. Most major credit card companies often make sure you do not have to pay anything for a fraudulent charge.
Keep an eye on your account statements
Even if you use safer payment methods, it is a good idea to look for unusual activity on your bank and credit card statements regularly to protect against identity theft. However, this is especially true during the holiday season, when scammers are even more active. The sooner you notice a transaction that you did not make, the sooner you can report it and prevent further fraudulent purchases.
How can I tell if a Black Friday or Cyber Monday sale is legitimate?
First, it can be helpful to go with your gut. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it might not be a scam, but it is probably worth a few extra helpings of skepticism.
It may be best not to click on links in ads you see online or in your email. Instead, you can go to the company’s website to see if it mentions anything about the sale. However, that still might not mean the sale is for real. Another step you can take is to check to see if the website itself is legitimate. Here are two ways to do this:
- Look at the URL for the website. This is the web page’s address on the internet. It usually begins with “http://” and is followed by the domain name, such as “RocketLawyer.com.” If the URL begins with “https://” the "s" indicates that the site is secure. You may want to use a search engine to confirm you are on the right website.
- Some web browsers make it easier for people to know a site is secure by displaying a small padlock icon next to the URL. If the padlock is not there, the site may or may not be secure. Your browser might also warn you if the site is not secure, but browsers do not always give this warning.
Keep in mind that some particularly skilled hackers can make a fraudulent website look secure. Cases like these are why you may want to trust your instincts if something looks off and investigate further before providing any personal information. If the website is for a company you know well, you may want to confirm that the website you are looking at is the correct one and not a copycat website. If you do not know the company well, you might want to do more research about the company before making a purchase.
What can I do if I have been scammed?
You have numerous options if you believe you have been scammed or are part of an ongoing scam. You can dispute a payment or credit card charge you believe is fraudulent by notifying your bank, credit card company or the payment processor.
You can file a police report for identity theft and prepare an ID Theft Affidavit. Multiple government entities and private organizations might be able to help you, depending on the circumstances. These are some organizations you can reach out to:
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation.
- The Federal Trade Commission.
- Your state’s Attorney General.
- The U.S. Secret Service.
- The Better Business Bureau.
What can I do if a scammer gets my information?
If you are worried that a scammer could make more charges to your account, you can request a Credit Freeze, contact your bank and credit card companies to notify them, and report the activity to law enforcement. You may want to change your online passwords and credit card numbers. Acting to protect your information may prevent scammers from using your card number or opening any new accounts in your name. You can also send a Letter to Report Unauthorized Use of a Social Security Number to the Social Security Administration.
How can I help protect my identity against theft?
Besides following the tips mentioned above for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, consider taking steps that make it harder for scammers to find your personal information.
Scammers might be able to access your financial information by hacking into websites that store your financial data. One way to help protect yourself is by making passwords harder to guess. For example, you might choose a different password for every site and change your passwords regularly. A complex password, such as one that combines lowercase and capital letters, numbers, and symbols, is often much harder to hack than a simple one like your dog’s name plus your birth date. Many browsers offer tools to create and save complex passwords, making it harder for scammers to access your online accounts.
If you are the victim of a Black Friday or Cyber Monday scam, or identity theft, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.