According to Nosto.com, online Black Friday sales have steadily grown over the years. In 2019, Black Friday revenues were $142.4 billion. In 2020, Black Friday revenues were $188.2 billion. In 2020, 186.4 million customers made purchases between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and we should expect that same enthusiasm different during the Black Friday 2021 season.
The 2021 holiday shopping season is shaping up to be a big one both online and in stores. For Black Friday, we can also expect shortages due to the ongoing supply distribution issues across the globe. This may create an opportunity for scammers or price gougers to use a Black Friday scam. Additionally, shipping is expected to be delayed again this year, so shop Black Friday discounts early or in-store when possible.
Below we gathered common Black Friday scams and some valuable guidance for you.
- Email scams
- Phone and message scams
- Facebook Farming on Black Friday
- Scams employed by retailers
- How to avoid Black Friday scams in 2021
1. Black Friday Email Scams
One of the methods scammers use to trick you out of your money and/or your personal information is through email. For example, they may email you fake coupons. If you have received an email that claims to include heavily discounted coupons, always be cautious. Even better, it is strongly advised not to open it at all, especially if you have not signed up to receive Black Friday email alerts from a specific retailer. It is not by accident that such emails usually end up in your spam/junk folder.
Below is an example of such a fake coupon:
This scam says that Kohl’s department stores are giving out free $150 coupons for Black Friday shopping. The retailer confirmed that the coupon is not affiliated with Kohl’s.
A user who responds to this fake offer is required to take part in a survey and provide personal information and sometimes credit card details. Finally, they must sign up to purchase a number of goods or subscriptions to claim their free coupon. Fake coupons are common Black Friday scams as they are difficult to spot, especially when they create a sense of urgency with promotions like “the offer expires in 2 days”.
This might look like it is the real thing coming from Target but if you watch closely you will notice an odd XYZ URL that is definitely not associated with Target company.
It should be noted that malware can also be downloaded automatically through images embedded in the email. That is why it is important to have up-to-date antivirus software. Also, take preventive measures, which include changing your email setting so that your computer/mobile device does not download images automatically.
If you do open such an email, avoid clicking on any of the links it contains no matter how much you would like to get an iPhone at 1/3 of its retail price. Finally, if you accidentally click on a link, never enter personal information. Instead, close the browser window.
Package Delivery Issues
This is another popular Black Friday scam, where the scammer tries to convince you that a package cannot be delivered (email could seem to be sent by UPS, FedEx, or USPS) or that you need to verify a tracking number. There are also instances where consumers were asked to download a shipping label or rearrange delivery by clicking on a link.
This should easily raise red flags if you have not made any purchases yet and are not expecting anything shipped to you. If you are expecting a package, though, know that shipping companies do not email customers for undeliverable packages.
Example of undeliverable package email:
This malicious e-mail is sent by scammers that claim to come from DHL, an international delivery service company. The e-mail informs about problems with delivery. A receiver is asked to follow a link in order for the company to send the parcel. A warning of delivery problems sent by a logistic company doesn’t prompt any suspicion, especially if an e-mail contains some details of the situation. But the logo of the company is false in the email.
If a user clicks the stated link, they will be redirected to a phishing website to fill in fields with personal information. Unsuspecting shoppers can also download malicious software programs via such links. Malicious software is designed to steal sensitive data and distribute spam.
Many of these emails may also appear to be coming from Amazon and they look like they are genuinely from them. If you click on a link in that email, you will be directed to a false website that looks very similar to the Amazon site. Note that Amazon will never ask for personal details, such as bank account details and a password through email. So, if in doubt, better check with the courier delivery services company you are expecting a package from or open a new window in your browser and log in to your Amazon account.
Eligible for a Refund
Scammers may send you an email that says you are eligible for a refund. It could look like it is from a popular online destination, a chain store, or a hotel. To determine whether this email is a fraud or not - unless you have indeed returned a product; otherwise, it is surely a scam - look at the subject line. It should contain specific details of the product or your order. Instead of reading something along the lines of "Wrong Transaction" or "Eligible for Refund", it should be something like "Your X order of Y product is eligible for a partial refund".
Look at the example of a fake TV Licensing email:
This is a fake TV licensing email claiming to offer a refund. It informs a user that a refund cannot be issued because of invalid account details. It is necessary to click “refund me now”. People who follow the link are redirected to a fake website designed to collect personal information and credit card details.
2. Black Friday Phone and Message Scams
Again, you may receive Black Friday ads or messages with coupons and special discounts for you. As with email, just ignore them. Chances are there is nothing but frustration there.
Below is an example of a fake SMS:
This is not a legitimate text message notification on SG Bonus. This scam is used to collect personal information. A user who follows the link is asked to fill in the fields with personal data in order to confirm their identity and get their SG Bonus. One red flag here is that the stated web resource isn’t using the https web encryption. The other is the style of the message which doesn’t sound correct. Such SMS are fake, just delete them.
Don't even bother considering a Black Friday deal that offers you iPads for $40 and new Samsung mobile phones for $50. Unrealistic prices (usually from online electronics stores and high-end designer clothes) are directly related to fraudulent activities. The companies offering such deals are fake online stores that have zero merchandise. The purpose of such Black Friday scams is to get a hold of your credit card information.
The video below features another Black Friday scam. A woman decided to buy iPhone 6 for $100 on the truck. She saw a sign with “Black Friday Sales” note. But if Black Friday deals sound too good to be true, they probably are. She got potatoes instead of a desired iPhone 6.
Bogus product scams usually occur through social media websites and online ads.
3. Facebook Farming on Black Friday
This particular type of Black Friday scam is usually an attempt where the scammer reaches a wide audience through Facebook likes and shares. Most of the time, you will see offers related to free Amazon gift cards, free MacBooks, or heavy discounts on Black Friday items. The only thing you will be asked to do is to click on some links and share those links on Facebook.
That way, the scam gets even more exposure and the hustler collects money from pay-per-clicks. You, on the other hand, will be left with an empty pocket because when the message has reached enough people, the post or page changes, even to a different product. Such "like-farming" tactics take place year-round. It is a profitable way for scammers to collect or to sell information about the users that interact with a post or to use that information as a means to collect more details (i.e. credit card numbers).
Below is an example of a Facebook farming survey scam:
Scammers created an eye-catching post where Walmart is giving away Black Friday Exclusive Pass. Users are asked to share this post with their friends in order to spread the Black Friday scam more widely. Then they are presented with a survey that collects personal data. Users are also asked to purchase products.
4. Black Friday Scams Employed by Retailers
Merchants may also perform a Black Friday scam. For example, they bump up the price and then lower it again. It is a common sales technique used by a wide range of retailers across the world. They usually show a Recommended Retail Price (RRP) but advertise a sale price so that you think you are being offered a great discount.
They always urge you to buy immediately because the bargain is on for a limited time only. After that, the item is sold at its RRP. Unfortunately, few are times when these offers are real. And, if you do find an item on a discount, there is no reason you should be rushed to make a purchase. After all, you can always find similar discounts available elsewhere during the year.
Other than that, some of the most commonly reported scams performed by merchants are:
Canceled Black Friday Deals
Many vendors offer Black Friday discounts on their products and then cancel the purchases made on Black Friday afterward. For example, this Pissed Consumer reports:
Purchased an item from OJcommerce LLC through Walmart's website. This Black Friday purchase was then cancelled on Sunday. I could have purchased a similar product from a competitor at Black Friday prices, but now [...]I'm left holding the bag...
Having Issues with the Website During Purchase
Walmart Black Friday complaint included a customer’s frustrations with the check-out process. According to the Walmart Black Friday review, the customer waited until the exact moment a sale started, put a new television in her cart, and went to check-out. But when she tried to pay for the Black Friday sale item, her card was not accepted, which she “knew was wrong (use it all the time).” But when she reordered the Black Friday sale television a minute later, they were completely sold out.
Not every website issue is a Black Friday scam, of course, but they certainly always seem a bit suspicious when the timing is spot on that benefits the company, not the consumer.
Fake Black Friday Ads and Promos
This includes promised rebates and promotions that retailers never deliver. According to his KingSize Black Friday complaint, a consumer tried to buy a pair of pants that had been advertised online as being 50 percent off. But when they tried to use the Black Friday coupon code, it wouldn’t be applied to the pants that had been in the advertisement. A consumer called the placement of the Black Friday coupon code and advertised discount “truly deceitful” and claims to be “quite upset.”
A Redditor had an experience with a bit of misleading advertising as well. In their review, they explained that they felt like getting a great deal on a 2DS gaming system. But when they left, they realized that the on-shelf price they paid was the same as the advertised “discount,”, and they left feeling frustrated and defeated by the advertising and money they spent.
Low Quality or Counterfeit Goods
Some companies take advantage of Black Friday deals to get rid of their dead stock. Others source for counterfeit goods that they sell at highly discounted prices to be able to compete against the real products.
Not Delivering the Goods Bought as Part of Black Friday Promotions
There are several reported cases of companies not delivering the products purchased as part of Black Friday promotions. In a complaint about Black Friday deals that fell through, a customer received online mail-in rebates from Macy’s months after the holiday season. These rebates arrived months after the customer shopped Black Friday ads that offered money back through online rebates and later had to follow up with customer service even to have the refund arrive. When they tried to use the rebate cards online, they found out that one of the cards didn’t work and the other couldn’t be combined with other forms of payment.
Falsely Inflated Prices
A poster on Reddit was able to show how retailers manipulate prices to create Black Friday discounts that benefit the store and not the customer. The poster’s image shows that a shoe was initially priced at $219. A sticker was placed over the price showing the original price was allegedly $249 and had been marked down by Black Friday discounts to $229, still higher than the actual price that was originally on the price tag, clearly visible beneath the “sale” sticker.
How to Avoid Black Friday Scams in 2021
1. Trust HTTPS websites only - employing security practices when shopping is the key, so look for websites that have HTTPS security encryption.
2. Do not open emails or messages from unknown senders - if you do open such an email accidentally, do not click on any of the links they urge you to, in order to "resolve" an issue or get a discount or a refund, and never ever enter your personal financial information.
3. Be skeptical - do not be too excited when you come across a 'too good to be true' Black Friday ad, always think twice before you throw yourself into such deals.
4. Stay Calm - if you have received an email that claims your product is undeliverable, remain calm and check with the merchant about whether your delivery is indeed problematic, call the courier delivery services company and ask them if there is a problem with your package.
5. Avoid using public Wi-Fi to shop and make payments - if the public Wi-Fi is insecure, cybercriminals may be able to access your personal information including your credit card information.
6. Ascertain the credibility of the website before buying - check the URL to ensure that it is a legitimate company and read reviews across various platforms to find out if previous customers experienced issues with this business.
7. Plan ahead and shop early - retailers already anticipate shipping delays and supply distribution issues, encouraging customers to shop early with early Black Friday deals. Get ahead of the problem by buying your most important gifts now.
Report Black Friday attacks to the Federal Trade Commission. Also, if you have received a suspicious email or a text message, report it to the company it appears to be from and let them take the necessary action against the attacker(s).
If you have fallen victim to a Black Friday scam, use social media to raise awareness. Pissed Consumer also provides you with a platform to share your bad experiences with companies and help others protect themselves against scammers, including Black Friday attacks, while also letting the scammer(s) know that you are on to them.
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