Beware of scammers looking to take your money this Black Friday

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Five minutes to bone up on the games cyber crooks play could be well worth your time

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday around the corner, consumers can’t afford to throw caution to the wind with the internet of things being the minefield of scams that it is.

ConsumerAffairs did some homework on what bushes scammers are hiding behind and found some new precautions readers should take before a supposedly good deal bites them in the back on Friday.

Secret Sister gift exchange

Based on the long-running “Secret Santa” office gift exchange, Secret Sister is nothing more than a pyramid scheme tailored for the holidays. This time around, the scam’s new wrinkle is a wine exchange. 

The red flags for this scam include providing personal data, providing the personal information of some friends, and receiving an email or social media invitation requesting that a modest gift or bottle of wine be sent to someone you don’t know. 

More simply put, the Better Business Bureau says that if someone promises a bunch of gifts or cash, stop right there and don’t go an inch further: 

“Keep in mind that pyramid schemes are international. Chain letters involving money or valuable items and promise big returns are illegal. Stop and ask, is it worth breaking the law? Report it instead to the U.S. Postal Inspection Services,” the organization said.

Attachments from retailers

Retailers don’t typically send attachments. They’d rather give you a link that goes directly to their online store. Attachments are the hiding place of choice for malware, and once you click on one, all bets are off.

Too good to be true? 

If a deal has you licking your chops over being able to score the deal of the century, stop right where you are and think. Cybercriminals know that there’s a sucker born every minute, and the holidays are a spawning season. If you see an OMG-worthy deal, pick up the phone and call the company directly to confirm the authenticity of the offer.

The devil’s in the details

Hidden inside coupons and deals might be an exclusion that prevents consumers from getting a discount on, say, a certain brand or products within a specific department. Unfortunately, “store-wide” coupons don’t always mean “store-wide” like one would think. Before you hurry off to the store, read every single caveat on the coupon.Reading the fine print goes beyond just the advertisement, according to the New York State Division of Consumer Protection. 

“When purchasing big-ticket items, consumers should look for and review warranty coverage on the specific item. Consumers should also check stock availability at the store. It’s also important for consumers to review the financing options carefully,” the agency stated.

“As consumers comb retail advertisements, they should take note of the fine print and the quantity of the product available at the advertised price, as well as whether rain checks are available.”

Some gift cards will only give you a headache

Scammers love gift cards -- so much so that cyber thieves made off with nearly $75 million in scams related to these cards in the last three months alone. So, what better time than Black Friday to set a trap for consumers looking even harder for a good deal on a gift card? 

The sad part of the equation is that it’s the consumer’s trust that usually does them in. Little do unsuspecting consumers know that the gift card they buy from a third party might be counterfeit, non-activated, or past the five-year usage window

Why are gift card scams so hot? Statista’s Maria Vultaggio says that part of the reason is that it allows scammers to remain anonymous.

“A con artist will usually target a senior or small business, and pretend to be a grandchild, tax collector, or use another alias. They convince the victim to buy them a gift card and then read the number over the phone. Once the transaction is complete, it’s difficult to reverse,” she said.

Whether gift cards are your gift of choice -- or you’re a giftcrastinator and opt for a gift card because you ran out of time to do any real shopping -- do yourself a favor and buy the gift cards at a grocery store or directly from a retailer. At least you’ll have a receipt proving it’s legit and activated properly. 

Make sure the site is secure

Over the past couple of years, the internet powers that be have forced websites to prove they’re secure. The way you can tell if a site is safe and secure is if its web address begins with “https.” If it doesn’t have that “s” on the end, there’s no guarantee that any business you do on the site or any information you share with it is safe.

Desperate people do desperate things 

Scammers are smart enough to realize that consumers can go to desperate lengths to have something no one else has -- especially toys. If you get an email from someone or company you don’t know promising a deal on a hard-to-find gift, it may be a cyber creep on a phishing expedition. Smart consumers will mark those emails as spam and delete them as fast as they come in.

Eye-popping airfares

Whether it’s Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or Travel Tuesday, budget airlines have been known to try and conjure up some extra business by dangling wickedly cheap fares in front of consumers. While it doesn’t qualify as a scam, per se, consumers should pay close attention to all the disclaimers and restrictions underneath the come-on of the deal.

“Budget airlines like Norwegian Air, Spirit, or Frontier will advertise insanely cheap fares this month in comparison to 5-star carriers like Lufthansa or Japan Airlines,” Jesse Neugarten, the founder of, told ConsumerAffairs. “Don't be fooled. Once you add up all the fees to select the seats you want, purchase food, and pay for baggage and other ancillary upgrades, it's not exactly a deal anymore.”

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