How to Avoid Black Friday Scams Online

Black Friday attracts crowds, and crowds attract scammers, and that means you need to take extra care when shopping online over the Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend. There’ll be people out there keen to relieve you of more money than you’ll save on a TV set or a gaming console.

The following precautions apply whatever the time of year, but it’s worth reminding yourself of them every time a serious holiday season comes around. In the rush to get gifts sorted, it’s all too easy to miss a warning sign, or get complacent about online security.

Update All Your Software

The good news for us as users is that Microsoft, Apple, Google, Mozilla and the other big names in tech are now very adept at spotting scams as they happen, whether that’s phishing emails (designed to lure you on to a fake shopping or banking site) or unauthorized logins on your accounts.

To make the most of the security built into Windows, macOS, and your favorite browser, ensure you’re running the latest versions across the board, which means you’re running the latest security patches—if you’ve been putting off updates on your phone or your computer, then get them done ahead of Black Friday.

These updates are so important that it’s now very difficult to postpone or opt out of them, and you’ll be regularly reminded if your software is out of date. If you do have a laptop that’s too old to run the latest versions of Windows or macOS, avoid using it if possible—you’ll be safer shopping on your phone, as long as it’s running the most recent Android or iOS updates.

Be Wary of Email and Social Media Deals

You’re likely to be inundated with special offers over email and social media this Black Friday, but be wary about clicking through on deals that come from suspicious sources (stores you’ve never shopped at for example). Always check that the link has sent you to the website you were expecting to reach.

people taking a coupon book as they enter a department store

Stay Inside and Enjoy Black Friday With These Shopping Tips

The biggest shopping day of the year can be intimidating. This is how to make the most of it.

There’s no hard and fast way of 100 percent guaranteeing you’ll never get caught out by a dodgy link (apart from just ignoring them all completely), but you can minimize the risk: Check the social media account or email address sending the link is genuine, head to the site in question in a separate browser window to see if you can find the same offer advertised, and be sure the offer you’re looking at is the one that was promoted.

If your browser is right up to date, as we mentioned above, dangerous links should be blocked before you reach them, but we’d still recommend being wary. You’ll see some great offers advertised over social media and email, but no discount is worth the risk of exposing yourself to online scammers.

Do Your Research

Wherever possible, stick to the big name stores online: Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, and so on. All the major players have robust security procedures in place, so the chances of getting hacked are smaller. Still, if you’re buying from any site, always check you’re on the store web portal you think you are by checking in your browser’s address bar.

We’re not saying you should never shop at smaller, unknown web outlets, but make sure they’re using HTTPS technology (indicated with a padlock in your browser’s address bar). Look for contact details, an office with a physical address, and reviews left by other users (Trustpilot can be helpful here). See if they’ve got presences on Twitter and Facebook—and whether those accounts are actually active.

Debit and credit card issuers will usually protect you against fraud—check their policies online if you’re not sure about yours—but nevertheless keep an eye on your bank accounts throughout the Black Friday weekend to make sure only the amounts you’re expecting to be debited are going out.

Protect Your Accounts

As always, keep your accounts locked down and protected on Black Friday. Use strong, unique passwords for all your accounts (a dedicated password manager or your browser’s password management system can help here), and turn on two-factor authentication on every account that offers it (Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Twitter ones all do, for a start).

While it may seem convenient to quickly set up a new shopping account with your ‘usual’ password, it only takes one account sharing the same password to get exposed, and all the others can come tumbling down after it. If you’re using the latest versions of Chrome and Safari, you’ll notice you can now use a strong password suggested by your browser (the option should pop up automatically when you’re in a password field).

If you’re planning on shopping at outlets where you haven’t purchased anything before, it’s a good idea to get these accounts set up ahead of time—this means you aren’t rushing when it comes to thinking up new passwords and entering potentially sensitive information into your web browser.

Guard Your Payment Info

Many places that you’re shopping at on Black Friday and Cyber Monday will already have your payment info on file, but if you’re entering details into a new site, again make sure the padlock symbol is showing in the address bar—the full URL should also begin “https://”, indicating that your payment details will be encrypted in transit.

If you’ve headed out of the house, we’d recommend waiting until you get back home before buying anything—or at least using the cellular data on your phone to make a connection rather than a public Wi-Fi hotspot, as it’s much harder for hackers to intercept your details (or just look over your shoulder as you’re typing them).

As tempting as Black Friday offers might be, it’s usually a good idea to shop in as few places as possible, if you can: the fewer companies that hold your payment data, the less likely you are to be victim to a data breach, and the risk of those breaches are really down to the company’s security policies rather than any precautions you can take.

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