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Watch out for these 4 scams while shopping online

Think you're safe from scams while online shopping? Think again.

Where e-commerce goes, e-criminals follow. The Federal Trade Commission had identified online shopping scams as the number one category of COVID-19 related complaints. Anytime you head online to shop, beware of these major scams:

Sham order confirmations that could lead to identity theft

“We’ve received your order” is typically a welcome message to find in one’s inbox. Sometimes, though, the sender is not someone you’ve actually done business with, but a scammer looking to give you the business.

Clicking on the fake link will lead to a request for personal/financial information that can facilitate identity theft or fraudulent purchases in your name. “We’re seeing more of these type of bogus messages given the time of year and the climate we’re living in right now,” Tom Spring, editor-in-chief of the tech blog Threatpost tells Yahoo Life.

“These order confirmations can come from any number of different mainstream companies and then criminals will take advantage of the most well-known brands—Walmart, Best Buy, Amazon, you name it.”

If it seems suspicious, go to the retailer’s official site, log into your account and verify that there hasn’t been any unexpected activity. Before that, though, invest in some cybersecurity, like Malwarebytes which offers defense for up to three computers (PC or Mac) preventing viruses, malicious websites, ransomware, and malware. It includes extra layers of web protection that block clicking through to malicious phishing sites and email links directly.

Bogus shipping notices: “Your package is running late”

Another popular scam: receiving what seems to be a FedEx, UPS, or Postal Service email notifying you that your package is running late. The email includes a link to track the package...but it’s a scam. One fateful click and you’ve wound up with a virus or worse on your hard drive.

Scammers love this one because the pandemic crush has put the major retailers and carriers in “crisis mode,” as Spring puts it, and trained people to expect shipping delays. “This is a perfect time to do it, because most people are either anticipating the packages they sent, or anything that might be sent to them—a surprise gift from Aunt Betty--might be delayed.”

When possible, you might want to avoid shipping altogether and arrange for curbside pickup from retailers. And when you do ship, go straight to the horse’s mouth (i.e., the shipper’s official site) for tracking info. 

Cloned web sites and fake coupon links

Don't click on that coupon link. It could be a scam. Another classic way to go on a phishing expedition: scammers send an email or text offering a coupon link that brings you to a mock retail website whose URL is almost exactly the same as one you have used.

But if you click on that link, it’s too late, and your username/password and/or credit card info could be compromised. One useful precaution, says Spring, is to take a close look at any links you receive and make sure they include “https” in their URL. Those five letters he says, represent, “an encryption technology that ensures that the information that you send from your device to the web server cannot be intercepted by a bad guy.”

Also check for any subtle, easily overlooked misspellings—i.e, make sure that link you’re about to click on says Walmart.com, not Wallmart.com.

Sob stories on social media: don’t donate unless you know the person

A particularly rampant scam are bogus pleas for money—in the form of phony fundraising organizations or sad stories from people on GoFundMe who are asking for your money.

“The emotions that the bad guys take advantage of are: fear, hate and sympathy,” says Spring. “Unfortunately, as compassionate, good human beings, we respond to sympathetic pleas.” Spring’s advice: don’t donate to GoFundMe pages from strangers and verify that any fundraising links lead to bonafide charities.

But Spring would like to suggest that we check our emotional responses, too. “Just like you wouldn’t want to send an angry email out or do something impulsive in a bad way, you don’t want to do something impulsive in a good way without some sober reflection on who you’re doing business with.”