The Fraud Examiner

How to Avoid Online Shopping Scams During the Holiday Season

Julia Johnson, CFE     
Research Specialist, Association of Certified Fraud Examiners                                 

During Cyber Monday this year, consumers in the U.S. spent $12 million each minute on online purchases. With total online sales revenue reaching $9.4 billion that day, there is no doubt cybercriminals were hard at work too. As online shopping ramps up for the holiday season, so does the risk of online shopping scams targeting individuals who are looking to buy their loved ones the perfect gifts without breaking the bank.

A common way that scammers target consumers is through bogus websites that replicate legitimate ones for popular merchants such as Apple, Amazon and Walmart. Scammers can easily set up fake retailer websites that look genuine by copying their designs, logos, layouts and an almost identical domain name. Many times, individuals will quickly type the name of a store into an internet search engine, click on the first link that appears, and are not aware that they are shopping on a fraudulent website.

Another channel for online shopping scams comes in the form of online stores that are advertised on social media platforms. Criminals set up fake online stores that are only open for a short period of time and then disappear after making a certain number of sales. Social media and domain impersonation scams aim to victimize as many consumers as possible by offering exclusive holiday deals or telling victims they must share the scam through their social media outlets to unlock additional deals.


Counterfeit goods

A common way that consumers fall victim to online shopping scams is by unknowingly purchasing counterfeit or low-quality goods from a fake website or fraudulent social media store. Scammers sell what appear to be brand-name goods on a retailer’s impersonated website at heavily discounted prices — tricking consumers into thinking they have just stumbled upon the deal of the century. Once consumers receive the products, they realize that the goods are poor-quality, knock-off items. When they attempt to return the items they ordered at a physical location of the retailer, they are told that the products are not sold in the store. Fraudulent retailers on social media platforms might have strict refund policies or choose not to respond to the customer when they inquire about the quality of the goods they received. 

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