Holiday Alert! The top five scams you need to know about


With Black Friday and Cyber Monday around the corner, we interviewed Anna Collard, Managing Director of Popcorn Training, a KnowBe4 company, to give us some inside tips on how to handle the festivities.

The holiday season is a sea of shopping, laughter, gifts and entertainment. It’s also a swamp of security risks and hacks and fraudsters, lurking on the edges of the festive fun. You want to give the best possible gifts or find the best possible deals, but you need to approach your shopping and gift giving with a measure of common sense and a dollop of security awareness. Crime is no longer on the high street, it’s online and its eyeing up your bank account, credit card details and personal information with alacrity. As you approach Black Friday and your holiday shopping, be aware of these five threats: fake Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, charity tricksters, fake gift cards and vouchers, fake mobile apps, and bogus shipping notices.

“Black Friday and Cyber Monday are major shopping events on the South African calendar, and this makes them a breeding ground for fake specials, malicious links and criminal activity,” says Anna Collard, Managing Director of Popcorn Training, a KnowBe4 Company. “There’s always an increase in fake special offers designed to lure people into clicking on a malicious link or opening a malicious attachment. People can end up handing out money for something that doesn’t exist.”

To protect yourself from this type of scam, avoid clicking on pop-up adverts and special offers. Rather visit the site directly and search for the offer that way. Often, the links will take you to fake sites that look a lot like the real thing and that are designed to phish for your personal information and bank details. Always check the URL and remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

“Charity tricksters are another nasty scam,” says Collard. “At the end of the year, most of us feel the need to give back and fraudsters know it. They set up fake charities that use existing events or trends, such as refugees, and get you to donate the money to them. Only give money to reputable charities that are accredited or well known, check their URLs to ensure they’re not bogus, and never give out your personal information unless you’re 100 percent sure.”

While fake charities are a new low for the cybercriminal industry, complimentary vouchers and gift cards are next-level clever. These fraudsters take advantage of people who have no idea what to buy for their significant other or who have left their gift shopping for the last minute. They offer fake online vouchers and cards which have no actual monetary value when they are redeemed. You lose and so does the person you bought the gift for.

“Gift card scams are not exclusive to online shoppers,” says Collard. “There have been incidents where people have been phoned by fake police or government officials and told to purchase gift cards for a certain amount and to read the numbers out over the phone. The scammer takes your money after terrifying you. Another way they can take your money is by replacing the barcodes on the gift card with ones that belongs to the scammer. When you put money into the card, the funds go directly into their bank account.”

Finally, fake mobile apps and bogus shipping notices should be on your watch list. Many stores have their own apps, and these are very useful, especially when you’re planning ahead for the Black Friday sales. However, if you don’t download the app from the Google Play or Apple App store, you run the risk of downloading a fake version of that app. This is completely controlled by the cybercriminals who then nab your money and your bank details while you shop.

“Fake shipping notices are a problem in December because so many people expect or send packages that you are less likely to eye an email with an unexpected shipping notice with suspicion,” concludes Collard. “You end up clicking on the attachment or filling out the form and next thing you know, you’ve been phished or hacked. Always check with the person who supposedly sent the package before you do anything, that way you can be absolutely sure it isn’t a scam.”

As you move into festive fun and shopping, keep these simple tips top of mind to ensure you emerge virus, hack, phish and ransomware free. Invest in antivirus software, only open attachments you expect, don’t click on pop-up ads and overly brilliant offers, check your URLs, and make sure you only download apps from a trusted source.