With any luck you weren’t one of the dozens of people either pepper-sprayed or punched in the kisser during the Black Friday rush. Every year, the news reports some level of violence and aggression during Black Friday and unfortunately this year was no exception.
While it’s important to avoid getting punched, kicked or sprayed, another danger lurking behind the scenes of holiday shopping is identity theft.
Unfortunately, holiday shopping provides prime opportunities for both in-store and online thieves who want to nab your information and use it to their advantage. Many credit unions are on the lookout for emerging identity theft scams and will often alert members in statement messages or on their website.
In order to be prepared to stop the scammers before they strike, CBS “Early Show” reveals the top four scams circling the ‘net this year:
Smartphone device malware. With a growing use of QR codes, thieves have found ways to leverage the code to retrieve your personal information. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), more than 50% of U.S. consumers who own a smartphone will be using it for shopping this holiday season. Malware has been developed to specifically target smartphones, with the Android most vulnerable, using QR (quick response) codes.
According to Jennifer Jolly, tech lifestyle editor at Tecca.com, consumers should be on alert for suspicious codes. Jolly advises consumers to treat their smartphone the same way they treat their computer. “Most people don't think twice about getting (protection) on their computer these days,” she says. “Get it on your smart phone or tablet as well. Also, only download apps from official app stores, from iTunes or from the Android app store. Download an app to preview the QR code first. I use an app called RedLaser and that will at least let you check out what that URL is, what that web address is. If it's .exe, don't go to it."
Fake social media offers. Your Twitter and Facebook account is vulnerable to these faulty targeted promotional campaigns. The scammer taps into your Twitter or Facebook account and posts a message to your friends that appears to be from you. Once your friend clicks on the link “you” sent to them, the friend is asked to “share” the link by clicking “like.” The link is instantly posted on the friend’s wall containing the scam message. Your friend is then surveyed for some personal information (so they can receive the fake offer) and that’s when the scammer strikes. While some actual retailers may be offering social media promotions, how do you discern between the real and fake offers?
Jolly says that a real promotion won’t ask for your personal information, it will use a direct link to the actual company page and suggest that instead of linking from the social media site, consumers should just go directly to the retailer’s website. She recalls a big social media scam under the guise of the Cheesecake Factory.
"This one is no fault of the stores or the Cheesecake Factory," she said. "One of the red flags with that one is saying, download this app. [Also]. it's against Facebook policy to make you like something to get something, that tit for tat. 'Share this with your friends and we will give you this in return.'"
"If it looks too good to be true, it is," she added. "You're not going to win an iPad right now. You're not going to win two free plane tickets. Don't share your private information, no matter what. Use the direct link to the company site. So if it takes you off to this other weird site, don't go to the dark alleys of the Internet."
Fake shipping/credit union alerts. If you receive an email from your credit union indicating a problem or information request, call immediately. The scam could reference an issue with direct deposit, electronic funds transfer or an urgent message asking for you to update your information or provide your PIN. Many credit unions will tell you that you should never provide your personal information online and to ignore and always call first.
Another shipping scam is a fake message from UPS saying that there is a problem with your bill or account. Like with your credit union, Jolly recommends that you should not respond to the email but instead call UPS or shipping provider.
Hot holiday gift scams. That “hard to resist” online coupon could be leaking your personal information to scammers. Thieves know which toys, electronics and items are hot this year so they target those items using counterfeit coupons with the goal of luring the consumer to a fake website to purchase the item.
Jolly says that a common scam is to get the consumer to the fake site to register to win a free iPad. She says that the consumer clicks on a phishing site, which may result in email spam and possibly identity theft. She notes which gifts are highly targeted this year:
Apple iPhone 4S
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" DVD
"Angry Birds: Knock on Wood Game"
Steve Jobs biography
Fijit Friends Willa Interactive Toy
Michael Buble "Christmas" album
Apple iPad 2
Kindle Fire tablet
Silver "Heart" pendants
"Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3"
Credit union members have a distinct advantage because most credit unions are on top and ahead of scammers. Not a member yet? Find a credit union today!