The pandemic might have tipped the scales over to favour ecommerce once and forever, with more people than ever seeking deals online during the pre-Christmas shopping period, especially during Black Friday.

Convenient though it is, shopping via the internet does pose some risks everyone should be aware of to make sure that the shine of the holiday season is not dimmed by a bitter taste.

The Better Business Bureau reported that online scams made up one in every three fraud reports in the United States in 2021, while Barclays Bank noted that reported purchase scams increased by 34 per cent during last year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

There are a number of ways fraudsters and scammers try to take advantage of the online shopping bonanza, when consumers’ might be more credulous than would generally be the case.

For example, fraudsters might run adverts promoting a heavily discounted item which they do not actually sell, known as purchase scams. These adverts often come complete with reviews of both the product and the company, with commentors praising the quality of the item and the speed of delivery.

None of these, on their own, mean that the promotion is a fraudulent one. However, if it looks like there is a concerted effort to prop up its legitimacy, it might be time to consider why trust could be an issue.

Ultimately, if a deal looks too good to be true, it might very well not be true at all.

Clicking on such adverts typically takes hopeful shoppers to a cloned website that looks just like the real thing, with small changes to a trusted URL.

Criminals often avoid asking for payment via VISA or Mastercard, which have their own fraud detection and restitution systems. Instead, they prefer to ask for payment via bank transfer. If the promotion asks for this method of payment, it might be time to start looking for more clues as to its authenticity.

Tell-tale signs of forgery include spelling errors, poor grammar, and unusual contact details — such as the seller’s address and email.

If the transaction has already been made, you should contact the Malta Police Force’s Cyber Crime Unit by telephone on 2294 2231 or on their email address computer.crime@gov.mt.

And remember: count to three before making the payment – it can save you a lot of time and money.


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