It starts earlier every year. I swear I heard people talking about Black Friday and Cyber Monday in August. If you are one of the few remaining Christmas shoppers that actually wait until the holiday season to buy presents you probably look forward to the day after American Thanksgiving, Black Friday. For stores, this is the day they finally put their general ledger in the positive, or black (or at least plan to). Retail is a tough business these days, and hitting planned numbers gets harder each year. Stores will stop at nothing to get you inside their establishment. This is a day of excitement for shoppers who will do just about anything for deals. No sleep? No problem. Long lines? No Problem. Need to push a few old ladies out of the way? No Problem.
Not everything is free tote bags and big screen televisions though, Black Friday also brings out the hustlers looking to scam the retail hungry. Combine old-school rip-offs with Cyber Monday techie scams and there is a lot to beware of when hunting for your great deals. There is the old saying, if it’s too good to be true it probably is. My Dad used to always say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. I always thought that was a pessimistic view. I mean, it’s just lunch, why can’t that be free? Then I grew up.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday will combine for over $60 billion in sales. When there’s that much money to be made it’s not only a shopaholic’s paradise, but also a criminal’s paradise (feel free to use that for a sequel, Coolio). Stores and online traffic are at an all-time high so you need to stay vigilant and for God’s sake, please don’t give anyone your social security number. Anyway, here is a look at some of the scams and traps to watch out for so you don’t start off the holiday season getting robbed.
10 Coupon Cutting
For some, the process is still scanning the Sunday paper prior to Thanksgiving weekend, but for most, coupons are now found online and sent through email. In addition to legit promotions you will find a lot of bogus coupons, promising big discounts and free merchandise just to get you to click into a site. Once there, Malware may be installed on your computer or Phishing based on basic info entered or pulled from your connection. Some of these sites are becoming sophisticated, using your preferences and information from past purchases to lure you into their world. If you search a lot for Nic Cage movie trailers, expect something related to Nic Cage discounted merchandise. (Note: This can be especially difficult in the case of Nic Cage given a lot of his movies are discounted already.) Stick to the store websites or coupon portals you have used in the past to ensure safety. Maybe also consider less Googling of Nic Cage.
9 Fake Website Contest
Nothing better than a chance to win a new TV, the latest Elmo or even A NEW CAR! Of course, many of these promotions are bogus and are another way for you to enter a site looking to install Malware or get your personal information. Again, if you suspect something is too good to be true then research further to see if it’s legit. Should you get suckered into one of these contests/sites the worst case scenario is identity theft, best case is annoying emails forever. Good rule of thumb here is if you have never heard of the store or brand, just say no.
8 Text Messages
The scammer can get your cell number from other websites, purchased lists or internet searches. Text messages promising FREE gifts for answers to fun quizzes or “how are we doing?” type questions. Never click the link unless you have validated the incoming number or you could be allowing someone access to your phone and all your information (emails, contacts and bank information). If you are not sure, Google the name and see if others have reported the same text messages or malicious activity.
7 Fake Charities
Remember the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza created The Human Fund (Money For People) charity as a way to avoid buying actual gifts? That was funny, but is also a favorite scam that has existed for years. The holidays are a time when we get caught up in the “spirit” and are most gullible. If someone is asking you to donate, it's okay to ask questions. In fact, if it’s a legitimate charity most want to discuss what they are doing and how your donation can help. Also, beware of charities masquerading as the real deal. Salvation Army Santa’s are in public areas, not soliciting donations on the bus or train. There is no such charity named The Salvation Navy.
6 The Big Screen TV
Nothing gets shoppers more hot and bothered than the words Big Screen TV. (See, you just got a little excited, didn’t you?) Anyway, you really need to do your research to see if what is advertised is really a deal or just an older model that isn’t really much of a discount at all. Also, read the fine print, the “special price” may only apply to certain models and you will be extremely pissed to find out at the register you are paying full price if you got up at 4am just for that Big Screen TV. Research, research, research and call the store prior if it is still not clear. Figure out whether the deal is for you before you go out and get your new Big Screen TV (Okay, you can settle down now.)
5 Limited Quantities
People have died from this particular promotion – trampled as people stormed stores trying to be one of the first 50 in order to get that digital photo frame for $10, saving $20. Now, true door busting doesn’t happen at the major outlets (for the most part); instead, you wait in line and are handed a number to ensure your digital photo frame is reserved. Is it really worth getting up at 2am and standing outside a Target in cold weather for this item? If the answer is yes then please read the fine print and know that if there are only 50 available there is a chance you will not get one, and getting up at 2am may not be early enough. I am not saying get up at 1am instead; definitely not suggesting such a thing.
4 Fake Luxury Bags
Think New York City’s Canal Street multiplied by 100, that’s what happens to the fake luxury bag market during the holidays. In cities, more become available on the street, but it’s pretty easy to spot “the fakes” just by who is selling. However, offers for Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton and Coach via email may be tempting. The message promises authentic bags at low holiday promotional prices. These brands are rarely promotional and if they do offer any discount, chances are it will be in-store only. Another case of promotions being too good to be true. If you are the adventurous type and are okay with purchasing a “good fake” then I suggest buying from someone in the street. First, you will see the bag firsthand and also, you are not randomly handing over personal information to someone knowingly committing a crime. Yes, it is illegal to buy fake handbags.
3 The Shady Parking Lot Deal
Yes, this still happens. You can still find hustlers in parking lots, trunk open, trying to sell you electronics or apparel at a deep discount. The chance that these items are stolen is 100 percent. In fact, you will be hard-pressed if you get busted pretending to not know you are buying hot materials. It’s the same as soliciting a hooker; if it looks like a hooker there’s a pretty good chance it’s a hooker. Don’t get busted buying stolen merchandise from the back of a car and don’t tell me you didn’t know she was a hooker.
2 Loser Products
Please don’t buy someone Windows XP for Christmas. A lot of stores use Black Friday to unload products that are no longer supported by manufacturers, damaged or just plain obsolete in the world today. These deals rely on the shopper that can’t resist a bargain, any bargain will do. Take a moment to think about what you are buying and why. Saving $90, but spending $10 on an item is still losing $10 if the item is of no use, regardless of the “deal” you think you just received.
1 Seasonal Travel Deals
This is the worst due to impact. Honestly, if someone gets screwed over buying a Big Screen TV because they thought they were getting a special deal it's somewhat deserved. Holiday travel is always a big part of the season and cyber criminals leverage Black Friday and Cyber Monday as times to trick you into entering your personal information in order to book a flight at ridiculously low prices. Best advice is to stick to the sites you know and pay attention to extensions. Expedia.net is not related to Expedia.com and SuperFunRedHotTravelDeals.com should raise an internal flag.