Beware Black Friday scams online

Black Friday falls on Friday, November 25 this year. One of the USA’s most recent exports, it’s now unofficially the start of the Christmas shopping period.

Never ones to miss out on a marketing opportunity, most big retailers now offer deals right throughout November. There are some great bargains to be had – tech bargains in particular – but it’s also open season for online scammers. It seems that fake websites are a particular problem, with an estimated 18,000 being created every day.

Here’s how to make sure you steer clear of online scams this Black Friday and beyond.

The cost of Black Friday scams

A recent study of 2,000 UK residents by Barclays’ Bank found that nearly one-in-four 18 to 34-year-olds have been victims of Black Friday scams since 2014 – losing an average of £661 in the process. Most of these scams lured victims in with too-good-to-be-true offers for headphones, laptops, phones, tablets and TVs.

The study also found one-in-ten  shopping scams resulted in losses of more than £2,000.

Purchase scams are the most common type of Black Friday fraud. This is when fraudsters trick consumers into paying in advance for goods that never arrive. This is known as push payment fraud and figures from HSBC show that its customers have reported 6,218 so far this year.

Purchase scams cost a total of £6.98 million in 2020, and the HSBC figures also show that instances of this type of scam increased by 17% in August this year, compared to the same month last year. So the total could be even higher for 2021.

How to spot a Black Friday scam

As with most online scams, unsuspecting shoppers are lured in with the promise of big discounts on much sought after items – the idea being that shoppers will be so dazzled by the deal, they’ll forget to check whether the site is actually genuine and safe.

And Black Friday, when many will go into a shopping frenzy, offers the perfect cover for scammers.

The best way to spot an online scam is to simply be vigilant – if something is offered in an unsolicited email or via a social media post, make sure you check the site offering the deal before entering any payment info.

If you get an email containing an offer, check for spelling mistakes and click on the email address to see where it’s from – many scammers now hide their real email behind an official-looking one – and always hover over any links to see the URL before you click on a link.

And trust your instincts – if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

How to spot a fake website

We’ve called in an expert to help you work out whether or not a website is legit. Sam Whillance, an expert at online e-commerce platform Deal.Town, shares six things shoppers should be looking out for to ensure a website is safe.

Steer clear of deals that seem too good to be true

If a website appears to be selling designer clothes or jewellery or electronics for considerably less than the usual retail price, always consider whether this is too good to be true.

Often, you could be purchasing fakes or replicas.

Look for a privacy policy

A privacy policy, normally in a statement format, explains how the business collects, uses, and stores sensitive data from its customers.

Whist laws and regulations worldwide vary, legitimate, reputable online retailers should have a clear privacy statement and if they don’t, this could be a red flag.

Check the SSL certificate

SSL, standing for ‘Secure Sockets Layer’, is an indication that a website is secure for shopping.

In other words, it is an encryption method that websites asking for sensitive or personal information, such as your credit card details, should have.

To ensure that a shopping website has an up-to-date SSL certificate, look out for a padlock icon in the URL bar of your web browser. Or alternatively, check that the URL starts with HTTPS, not HTTP (the S stands for ‘secure’).

Check if the website accepts credit cards

Credit cards are one of the safest methods for making online transactions. This is because its easier for credit card issuers to refund money lost to fraud.

Websites that don’t accept credit card payments could be warning signal, as it is a lot more difficult for fraudulent websites to become certified by credit card companies.

Watch out for spelling and grammar mistakes

Legitimate brands will have the professionalism and accuracy to ensure the text and imagery on their websites are correct.

If a website is poorly written and contains numerous spelling or grammatical mistakes, it could indicate that the seller is not genuine.

Other red flags may include low-quality images,  the inability to leave reviews, and no returns policy.

Look for a phone number and address

The majority of legitimate retailers will have a contact number and an address visible in either the header or footer of their website.

If you aren’t 100% sure whether an online shop is genuine, copy and paste their address and phone number into a Google search engine, to see if their details are verifiable.

Fake sellers will either not provide any address or use a fake one.

How to shop safely online this Black Friday

Follow these quick tips to shop safely online this Black Friday…

  • Use trusted websites with secure checkouts and online marketplaces with good reputations are your best bet for Black Friday.
  • Check for the padlock beside the web address before you enter your card details.
  • Check the website address Online scammers are known to create convincing-looking copies of websites with URLs that are slightly different from the real thing. There are a number of ways to do this, such as moving dots around – think instead of – or slight letter changes – like instead of
  • Double-check that you’re buying from the website you thought you were buying from before making any purchase.

It also helps to make sure your systems are protected from scams. Common browsers such as Safari, Mozilla or Internet Explorer are already quite well armed against spam or phishing. In order to maintain this protection, updates should be made on a regular basis. This also applies to the operating system of the device used, whether smartphone or PC.