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Scam Alert: Fake Holiday Deals

6 tips to protect your wallet from online shopping scams

Each day, millions of shoppers hunt for the best deals at their favorite online retailers.

Finding an item at a bargain price can feel like a major victory. Yet for some, that victory is short-lived once they realize they are the victim, not the victor.

Click-Bait Deals

Cyber criminals lure unsuspecting shoppers with extraordinary discounts, coupons, phony gift cards and other temptations, often posing as major retailers. Emails that look amazingly authentic contain links to bogus offers or fake store websites selling counterfeit goods. To get access to the “deal” or make the “purchase” shoppers provide personal information, credit card numbers, or click malicious links.

You may think you would never take the bait. Yet, 40% of U.S. consumers admit they have fallen prey to a phishing attempt (DomainTools, 2017). Since the most successful swindles are very difficult to distinguish from bona fide offers, it is important to be vigilant. 

Homeland Security officials warn that many popular items trending online are counterfeit. Be wary when purchasing electronics, jewelry and handbags online, and even in retail stores.

Here are some tips to help you avoid buying counterfeit goods, while protecting your finances and your identity.

1 - Too Good to Be True? Fraud Alert! 

Cyber criminals will do just about anything to get you to make a purchase, including offering free gift cards or “designer” merchandise. It may seem basic, but the old adage holds true: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

2 - Resist the Clicks

Scammers capitalize on a sense of urgency to get people to click. Many fraudulent offers play up seasonal specials and imitate mega brands such as Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Apple. Choose deals wisely. And, think twice before clicking on an email link.

3 - Fake Out the Fakers

Before clicking a link, hover over it with your mouse to reveal the destination address. This enables you to judge whether the web address seems authentic, or has an odd name or spelling (typical of a fake). Suspicious web addresses may include a hyphen or the words “shop,” “official site,” or “secure” to attempt to appear legitimate. Some examples of phony websites include Amazonsecure-shop and Target-officialsite. Unfortunately, links on social media are often shortened, obscuring the destination. Be cautious when clicking those links.

4 - Rush at Your Own Risk

A link in an email or on social media provides a nearly instant way to visit a website and score a deal. Fraud prevention experts advise shoppers to slow down and head to the brand’s official website to buy authentic goods instead of using the link, if possible. Again, if you must click, carefully examine the destination’s web address (see Tip 2).

5 - Phony Confirmations

When you shop online, an order or delivery confirmation may arrive in your email inbox. The high volume of online orders during the holiday season presents opportunities for cyber criminals. Phony emails claiming to be from FedEx or the U.S. Postal Service may state a package is undeliverable. The email directs the recipient to click a link (and provide sensitive information) or open an attachment (triggering a harmful computer intrusion). 

6 - Suspicious Website? Do a Quick Check.

When fraudsters create phony websites to engage in cybercrime, they may neglect a few details. Here are a few easy things to check.

  • First Impressions. A poorly designed website with urgent sales appeals and multiple pop-up windows may indicate an illegitimate retailer. Check for the HTTPS and lock symbol in your browser’s address bar.
  • Look. If you suspect a website is fake, inspect the “About Us” page. Does the information provided match the business? Is the description overly generic? Does the text include errors? Do a little detective work and follow your gut. 
  • Call. Fraudulent sites do not usually staff a call center. If one does exist, attempt to call before making a purchase. If someone answers, can he or she answer basic questions? Do their answers raise red flags?

Be a Savvy and Safe Shopper. Exalt in the joy of landing an extraordinary deal. Just be sure to avoid the traps laid by scammers.


CBS. (2017, November 22). Officials warn customers of counterfeit presents as holiday shopping season begins. CBS Detroit.

Domain Tools. (2017, November 7). Cyber Monday deal or phishing scam? Domain Tools Blog.

Tompor, S. (2017, November 17). Fake Amazon gift cards, phony Walmart sites and other cyber scams tempt holiday shoppers.

Information and recommendations may have changed since this article was written. Outlooks and past performance are not guarantees of future results.