I'm usually in too much of a Thanksgiving food coma to hit the sales on Black Friday, but millions of other Americans somehow find the energy. Last year, 89 million people took advantage of Black Friday sales (57 million of them online), while an estimated 247 million shopped throughout the four-day weekend, as stores increasingly have opened their doors on Thanksgiving itself.
In addition, millions of bargain hunters spent another $2 billion on Cyber Monday, so it's clear that online holiday shopping is here to stay. Unfortunately, cyber criminals have zeroed in on this trend and are redoubling their efforts to separate shoppers from their hard-earned cash.
Whether you're shopping online using your computer, smartphone or tablet, here are some common cyber scams to watch out for and security precautions you should take:
Gift Cards. A few tips for buying gift cards:
Discounted goods. Most retailers offer holiday sales as a way to boost their year-end bottom line. If you've "liked" a product or store on Facebook or Twitter, or have signed up to receive their emails, you may well get genuine offers for steep discounts or last-minute sales.
But beware of bogus offers from sites that mimic those of legitimate retailers. They could be:
Delivery problems. Another common scam is to send an email claiming that Fed-Ex or another courier is trying to deliver a package or there's a problem with your order. You'll be told to click on a link to get details and will likely be asked to reveal account or other personal information to verify. Unless you previously provided them your email address, this is probably bogus.
Another variation is to send a postcard saying a package was undeliverable. You'll be instructed to call a number for details (often an expensive toll call) and, again, reveal personal information. If you think you may have actually missed a delivery, contact the company yourself to verify -- their website should have a toll-free number to call.
Phony charities. The holiday period is when many people make most of their charitable contributions, so you can expect an uptick in calls, emails and letters from both real and fake charities. Never give your credit card number or send a check until you've verified that the organization is legitimate. See my previous blog, 'Tis the Season for Donating Money, for suggestions on screening non-profits.
A few additional holiday-related security tips:
Don't let the prospect of getting a great deal on Black Friday allow you to drop your guard against scammers who would love to fill your stocking with coal.
This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.
Follow Jason Alderman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney