By Alicia Tarrance
Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and so are Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Nearly everyone is familiar with these recurring events that come on the heels of the American holiday of Thanksgiving. But few are aware of the risks that accompany these popular events. The danger is not limited to getting plowed in the back of the ankles with a shopping cart; threat actors have devised serious scams devoted to these events that can leave you disappointed and empty your pockets. This article examines some scams common on Black Friday and Cyber Monday and ways to avoid them.
But before we jump in, let’s look at a brief history of these two shopping occasions. Where did Black Friday come from? Why is it called Black Friday, and what origin story created what is now known as the most important retail day each year and its digital sister, Cyber Monday?
In the 1950s, police officers in Philadelphia used the term Black Friday to describe the shopping chaos that happened the day after Thanksgiving. Hordes of shoppers and tourists visited the city before the popular Army-Navy football game that took place on that Saturday every year. The police officers had to work long hours, including overtime, to handle the extra crowds and traffic.
Some individuals took advantage of the oversized crowds, and shoplifting and other crimes increased. By 1961 Black Friday had caught on in Philadelphia and spread from there. There were some attempts to change the name to “Big Friday” to remove any negative connotations. By the late 1980s, retailers settled on “Black Friday” to mark the day they hoped to turn a profit – or be out of the red and into the black.
Cyber Monday started in 2005, created by Ellen Davis, senior vice president of research and strategic initiatives at the National Retail Federation. Retailers recognized online shopping to be most common on Mondays after Thanksgiving. They figured that’s when adults would do their Christmas shopping at work due to faster internet and privacy from little prying eyes.
Online retailers caught on to this recurring Monday shopping spree that seemed to happen on the same day each year. Some wanted to call it “Black Monday” or “Blue Monday” after blue hyperlinks. But only a few agreed with this name, so they went with Ellen Davis’ idea of Cyber Monday.
Delivery Issues Phishing Scam
Discussing the ever-growing ruse designed to bring your attention to a fake delivery issue to trick you into clicking a malicious link, Corey Nachreiner, CSO at WatchGuard, said, “Tis the season… for fake delivery notifications. They come in many varieties, purporting to be legitimate emails or texts from FedEx, UPS, or other well-known shippers, saying a package couldn’t be delivered or claiming to have new information on the status or estimated arrival time of an order in transit. In reality, the messages are from opportunistic attackers preying on the fact that many of us see an increase in package deliveries during the holiday shopping season.
“They’re hoping that you’ll be too busy or too excited by the prospect of a gift to notice the bad grammar, spelling mistakes and the sender’s unusual email address and click on the malicious link in the email. Don’t do it! This is how they try to steal your credentials and other sensitive data.”
Speaking of not clicking on unusual links or responding to suspicious emails, it can happen to anyone. Each year threat actors get better at disguising their phishing emails to look more legitimate. There are things you can do beforehand to prepare for the eventuality that you or a family member will be the victim of a phishing attack.
Nachreiner continued, “While there may not be many unique new Black Friday / Cyber Monday attacks this year, you should still be vigilant. Year after year, many of the same scams and tactics still manage to snag new victims as holiday shoppers let their guard down.”
Corey suggests that consumers consider using alternate online payment methods. “Don’t use your normal credit or debit card to make purchases online. If you accidentally use your credit card info and personal info on a shady website, the cyber scammer behind it might well make off with more than you expect. Services like Apple Pay, PayPal, Venmo, and Zelle enable safe transactions between buyers and sellers by abstracting consumers’ actual financial account details from online payments. Getting a temporary credit card to make purchases online can be a safer option as well, but be wary of anyone that requires you to pay with, say, a Visa gift card,” he added.
Always check and ensure a padlock is in the address bar of any website you use. Make sure the URL starts with “https.” The “s” is essential. It indicates the website is secure; more specifically, it employs Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) technology. Downloading website security apps like McAfee WebAdvisor can also help give you extra security and peace of mind.
Using two-factor authentication on any e-commerce site that supports it is another way to protect yourself from unwanted scams. Some examples include Microsoft authenticator, Google authenticator, and PayPal.
Gift Card Scams
Are you interested in buying gift cards this holiday season? You’re not the only one who wants those gift cards in your wallet. Scammers love gift cards. They love them because they’re nearly untraceable after the scammer has spent the money.
Here are some things to remember. Don’t give gift card information to unknown sources. But that’s easier said than done, given that they like to pretend to be a company or someone you know. If someone asks you to pay strictly in gift cards, it’s probably a fraud. Save your holiday season and your gift cards for safe online shopping, or of course, the loved ones you got them for.
Since the holidays are coming up, giving is what we all love to do in the season. When it comes to charities, this is the season they make the most profit. But that being said, it is also the time scammers like to take advantage of a giving heart by creating fake charities. To avoid giving to fake charities, check with charity watchdogs such as Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, and Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, if you feel it is suspicious.
When you decide to go Black Friday shopping this weekend or start the week catching those killer online deals, remember to keep a wary eye out for all those sticky-fingered scammers. As long as you’re aware and use the tools provided to you, you will have a smooth sailing holiday season!
Alicia Tarrance is a budding writer and content creator focusing on technology, cybersecurity, and social issues. She is a regular contributor to Brilliance Security Magazine. Based in the American southwest, Alicia is highly sought after for her insightful commentary and sharp writing style. When she’s not busy crafting the next great article, she enjoys being a mom and spending time with her family.