Cybercriminals are gearing up for a busy online shopping season

In this fourth article in our Cyber 101 series, we take a look at some of the ways online scammers are out to take advantage of the holiday shopping season


In this fourth article in our Cyber 101 series, we take a look at some of the ways online scammers are out to take advantage of the holiday shopping season

Given the continued movement toward online shopping, Christmas 2020 was always destined to be a big year for cyber retail. But with the pandemic and stay-at-home orders added into the mix, economists expect an online holiday shopping rush beyond expectation. Consumers who’ve endured a difficult year say they’re anxious to buy gifts, hoping to lift their own and their family’s spirits.

As a result, the National Retail Federation expects online and other non-store holiday sales will increase between 20 percent and 30 percent from 2019.

Cybercrime is expected to see a holiday increase, too.

McAfee, a California-based global computer security software company, says such incidences have risen steadily throughout the coronavirus. In mid-2020, it recorded 419 threats per minute, an increase of almost 12% over the previous quarter.

According to McAfee, “Bad actors have retargeted increasingly sophisticated techniques toward businesses, governments, schools, and a workforce still dealing with the challenges presented by COVID-19 restrictions and potential vulnerabilities of remote device and bandwidth security.”

Consumers aren’t all getting the message. According to McAfee, less than half check to see if Black Friday or Cyber Monday-related emails and text messages are authentic and trustworthy.

And for bargain shoppers searching for deals, the risk potential gets even higher.

“There are people who have built cooperatives to gauge the demand of particular items, then use bots to buy as much of the supply as possible and resell it on sites like Amazon, eBay or Craigslist,” said Viasat Technical Director Lee Chieffalo. “The thing to watch out for is the method with which you pay for it.”

Amazon’s huge network of third-party sellers makes it tough for the company to ensure every seller is legitimate, so consumers need to take personal responsibility and be wary. It’s a red flag if a seller asks you to pay off Amazon’s – or any other well-established retailers’ – website. Sites with third-party sellers typically handle the transactions, holding the money until the purchase is validated. Going offsite means losing that security.

A scammer may decline a buyer’s payment and ask to be paid directly via a method that bypasses Amazon. They may say they’ve encountered a processing problem, and urge direct payment to avoid a delay and ensure the product’s timely arrival.

Just remember what your mother said: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Chieffalo also urged people to be careful in seeking alternative sources for hard-to-find items.

“A lot of things in high demand are sold out, but don’t go to Twitter, Facebook or other social media sites where people may be posting that they have these items,” he said. “If they request you email, text or direct message them to sell it to you, it’s a scam.

“Always make sure it’s through a legitimate seller that handles the payment process. Never send your payment information or make a payment to somebody via email or direct message.”

If you must purchase from a third-party, use a payment app like Venmo or Zelle that lets you electronically transfer money directly from your bank account to someone else. Check these common-sense tips for using the services wisely.

Even better, Chieffalo said, are virtual debit card services. They allow users to create and use a virtual debit card number that masks your real card and financial information when making purchases. These cards can only be used with the vendors the customer specifies, can be canceled or paused at any time and include spending limits. The cards can be quickly created and set to auto-expire.

One of these services, Privacy Cards, is free, and even includes a cashback option.

“It’s a fantastic service – one of the safest ways to handle online shopping,” Chieffalo said.

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