Tips To Avoid Online Shopping Scams

Close-up shot of a young woman holding a digital tablet and shopping online on Black Friday at home.
VioletaStoimenova / iStock.com

With the explosion of online shopping in recent years, consumers might feel overwhelmed just trying to distinguish the great bargains from the dud deals. In all the hustle and bustle, it can be easy to overlook one crucial first step: cybersecurity.

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Digital fraud has been on the rise, partly driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, which made the internet become an even hotter, more crowded spot than it was before. In the first half of 2020 there were 1.1 billion fraud attacks — twice as many than occurred in the six months prior. Hackers have stolen stimulus checks, unemployment benefits and tricked people into making donations to fake charities. In total, Americans have already lost $145 million to fraud related to the pandemic, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

With e-commerce surging as social distancing measures and partial lockdowns continue, cybercriminals are ready to pounce on easy targets. To help avoid falling prey to bad actors, Howard Dvorkin, chairman of Debt.com, recommends that consumers take the following measures while shopping online:

  • Steer clear of deals that are too good to be true: If a deal is so dazzling it has you questioning its authenticity, it’s probably fake. This is especially so when searching using keywords such as “season’s hottest gifts.”
  • Be on the lookout for lookalike websites: Pay attention to the URL of the site you’re on and make sure it’s legitimately tied to the business it seems to be. Check that the business name is spelled correctly and that valid customer service contact information is available.
  • Be wary of phishing scams: If you receive unsolicited texts or emails prompting you to click a link to check on delivery status or claim a prize, do not click. It could be part of a phishing scam. If the message isn’t unsolicited, hover your mouse over the link to see the true URL and ensure that it’s linked to a legitimate business.
  • Update antivirus software: If you’ve let your antivirus software lapse, now is the time to update it. Though not bulletproof, antivirus software enhances your protection against malware downloaded by phishing scams, pop-ups and unsafe websites.

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    Last updated: Aug. 23, 2021

    About the Author

    Nicole Spector is a writer, editor, and author based in Los Angeles by way of Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Vogue, the Atlantic, Vice, and The New Yorker. She's a frequent contributor to NBC News and Publishers Weekly. Her 2013 debut novel, "Fifty Shades of Dorian Gray" received laudatory blurbs from the likes of Fred Armisen and Ken Kalfus, and was published in the US, UK, France, and Russia — though nobody knows whatever happened with the Russian edition! She has an affinity for Twitter.

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