When you think of Black Friday scams, you might think of ordinary crimes like wallet snatching, but as identity thieves and other criminals move to capitalize on the biggest shopping holiday of the year, these scams are growing ever more sophisticated. The sophistication of these crimes means that not only are victims unaware of the issue until it’s too late, but the perpetrators might never be caught.
If you live in Florida, Colorado, or Delaware, you might want to be extra cautious on Black Friday, since these states have the highest incidences of identity theft and other scams per capita in the nation. See the full list on Stumble Forward of the best and worst states for identity theft risk. Whether or not you live in one of the states with the highest or lowest risk of identity theft, you still need to be on alert on Black Friday for potential scammers.
The good news is that by knowing which Black Friday scams are most likely to pop up this year and which scams were successful in years past, you can protect yourself and know what to look out for when you are out taking advantage of deals this holiday season – without getting taken advantage of yourself.
Black Friday Scams of Years Past
Black Friday scams are probably as old as the shopping holiday itself, but tracking these crimes is a relatively recent phenomenon. As local and state police and even the federal government become more involved in tracking and preventing identity theft, retailers, shopping centers, and malls are also taking a greater interest in protecting their customers. Thanks to such efforts, previous Black Friday scam rings like these are being broken up more quickly.
- “Leaked” Black Friday deals. If you received a link to Black Friday deals from a trusted retailer like Target or Walmart before those deals were available to anyone else, wouldn’t you click on it? Not so fast. These stores don’t have preferred Black Friday shopper programs, and those links are malicious. This Black Friday scam appeared last year, and it’s already popping up again in 2012.
- Parking lot deals. In this scam someone approaches you in a parking lot offering to unload something valuable, usually electronics, for pennies on the dollar. When you get home, you’ll find that for the low low price of $200 you bought a box full of bricks – not to mention these low tech thieves probably stole your wallet in the process. This one is never legit; avoid people who try to sell you things in parking lots at any time of year.
- Ad misprints. Mistakes can and do happen, and once in awhile, a store honestly makes a mistake in its ad pricing. Reputable stores like Macy’s will post notices to all shoppers about the misprint. Less reputable stores may print the wrong price on purpose, won’t say a word until you’ve checked out, then will refuse to honor the original price. Be reasonable in your expectations for an adjustment, but always bring printed ads with you for backup.
Black Friday Scams for This Year
New scams are continually popping up, but with such a short time to go before Black Friday, there are already three major scams known to authorities that are expected to lure shoppers in search of a Black Friday deal to a Black Friday scam instead. Watch out for these.
- GPS tracking. I’m surprised that more news outlets haven’t done investigations into the new practice of tracking shoppers by their cell phones. Stores that install tracking systems can follow you throughout the store via a GPS enabled phone and know how long you spend in each section, not to mention how much you spend at the register. The risk of identity theft here is just off the charts. I recommend turning off your cell phone as you shop, or at the very least disabling the GPS on your phone if you can.
- Non-retail deals. Although car companies do occasionally offer special deals during the holiday, who ever heard of an insurance company offering discount holiday rates? There is, however, such an e-mail making the rounds, with offers as low as $3 a week for car insurance. Remember, if you didn’t ask for it and it’s too good to be true, you’d better pass it up. The e-mail linked above is believed to be an identity theft scam.
- Seasonal employment offers. With the unemployment rate still high, many Americans will be looking for seasonal employment this year, and scammers will be lying in wait for these folks. Be careful about your personal information when applying for a seasonal job, and do your research on the employer to avoid identity theft.
How to Protect Yourself On the Busiest Shopping Day of the Year
- Only go to trusted retailers. With all the empty storefronts from collapsed businesses, pop up shops are doing booming business with low overhead. However, if you have a problem there is no guarantee that the pop up shop will still be there when you need help.
- Avoid using your debit card. Knowing that millions of debit cards will be swiped on Black Friday, don’t doubt that identity thieves will be out and about in the weeks leading up to the shopping holiday installing credit card skimmers. These devices steal your card information at the point of sale, and can be hard to spot – see examples and a more detailed explanation of how these devices work in Stumble Forward’s article on gas pump skimming. You have less protection against this theft with a debit card, so use credit instead.
- Check your credit card statement frequently. You’ll probably be using your credit card more often than usual during the holiday season. It’s important to make time to check your statements frequently and thoroughly, since the sooner you report a problem the more likely you are to be able to recoup any losses and prevent further theft.
Be careful and use common sense while you’re out shopping this holiday season. Being alert to the possibility of malfeasance might be the number one best way to avoid becoming a victim of fraud; thieves tend to go after easy targets, and if you look alert and street smart, criminals won’t want to cross your path.