Beware of Shopping Scams and Porch Pirates

While searching and shopping for the perfect holiday gifts for family and friends right from your smartphone, tablet, or computer, and then having those gifts delivered directly to your door couldn’t be more convenient – online shopping comes with some risks. Read on to learn more about how online shoppers are targeted, how to protect yourself, why last-minute shoppers might be especially at risk, and why you must protect even legitimate purchases at the time of delivery.

Common Ways Fraudsters Target Online Shoppers

There’s certainly something to be said for finding just what you want, easily comparing prices, and avoiding long lines at the stores, especially during a busy holiday season – but online shoppers should proceed with caution.

If your items never arrive, come damaged, turn out to be a brand knockoff, or otherwise don’t match the seller’s description or are accompanied by unreasonable fees, most shoppers would agree that the purchase was less than worthwhile. Worse yet, if you submit your personal and financial information to a fraudulent online merchant, you could be at risk of identity theft and major financial losses.

According to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), scammers take advantage of online shoppers in three main ways:

  1. Creating Fraudulent Shopping Sites and Email Messages

You receive an email promising incredible deals on brand-name or hard-to-find items. You’re looking for a specific gift and can only find it in an online store you’ve never heard of before. While these could be legitimate, there’s a chance you’ve encountered a fraudulent site or email message created to get visitors to provide sensitive personal and financial information. That could mean you’re paying for an item you’ll never receive – or worse, setting yourself up for identity theft and financial fraud. During the holidays, these emails and sites may also claim to be connected to charities, seeking “donations.” Depending on the cybercriminal creator’s level of expertise, these emails and sites may look obviously shady or completely legitimate.

  • Intercepting Information from Non-Secure Transactions

Encryption is essential for online shopping. This cybersecurity measure scrambles plain text so it can be read only by a user with a special code. If a legitimate seller or store does not use encryption, a cybercriminal could intercept your personal or financial information as it’s transmitted. Look for “https” at the start of a site’s address. If you don’t see the “s” and only see “http,” the site is not encrypted.

  • Targeting Your Device’s Vulnerabilities

Without antivirus and anti-malware protections, cybercriminals may be able to access your computer, tablet, or smartphone and all the sensitive information stored on it. Stores and sellers should protect their computers to prevent these fraudsters from accessing their customer databases.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

While some risk is always associated with online shopping, you can use 11 simple strategies to keep yourself safe:

  1. Shop with online retailers you already know and trust.
  2. Beware of marketplace sellers or new stores that contact you directly via email.
  3. Make sure you see the “https” at the start of a store or seller’s URL.
  4. Always insist on using safer payment options – like major credit cards or PayPal.
  5. If using an app to shop, make sure it’s the official one associated with the store (Amazon, Target, etc.)
  6. Keep up with news about data breaches and monitor your accounts regularly.
  7. Secure your devices with antivirus and anti-malware software.
  8. Avoid conducting sensitive transactions on public networks.
  9. Think twice before storing your credit card details on your device or with a merchant.
  10. Create strong passwords to protect your accounts.
  11. Consider identity theft protection.

Last-Minute Shoppers May Be Especially Vulnerable

Who among us hasn’t had to do some last-minute shopping to reciprocate a gift you didn’t expect to receive, buy for someone you accidentally skipped on your shopping list, or send a little extra holiday cheer to someone who needs it? Online shopping makes last-minute purchases possible, but sometimes cybercriminals see them as easy targets. Why?

Late shoppers may be more likely to buy gift cards, and lots of gift card scams are conducted through emails and fraudulent sites. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. As a last-minute shopper, you may also be looking for a popular item that’s now out of stock at your normal stores. Beware of buying from a site you’ve never heard of, no matter how much you want that item. Last-minute shoppers may also be more likely to need fast shipping, making them more vulnerable to outrageous associated fees. Finally, if you’re feeling the pressure of a time crunch, you’re less likely to be diligent about checking for signs of scams before a purchase – and scammers are counting on it.

Be on Guard for Porch Pirates Trying to Steal Your Bounty

You’ve done everything right and purchased all your holiday gifts from legitimate online retailers using safe payment methods. Your package is on the way, and you’re ready to happily check another item off your seemingly endless to-do list. But wait – the merchant says your package was delivered, but you got home and it’s nowhere to be found. Unfortunately, even the savviest online shoppers are still susceptible to post-delivery theft by “porch pirates.”

Try to get your packages off your porch or step as soon as they are delivered. If that’s not possible, ask a trusted neighbor to put them aside for you or consider installing a doorbell/security camera so you can see who is coming and going. Make sure you don’t schedule packages for delivery when you know you won’t be home. Consider having high-value or very important deliveries shipped to a locker instead or require a signature upon receipt.

Be a Safe Shopper All Year Long

Remember, while online shopping scams may be especially rampant during the holiday season, shoppers are susceptible any time of year. Keep the strategies above in mind every time you’re providing personal and financial information in exchange for products and services online. If you believe you are the victim of an online shopping scam, contact your financial institution right away to minimize the damage and get advice on how to protect your finances in the future.

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