Bogus Black Friday deals. Depleted gift cards. “There’s a problem with your purchase” or fake delivery issue notifications. The holiday shopping season traditionally is a veritable cornucopia of scams.
Fortunately, many Americans are aware of the heightened risks. A 2019 report from TransUnion found nearly half (46%) of respondents were concerned about becoming the victim of fraudsters during the holiday season.
Unfortunately, there is no true failsafe against fraud. And with the Covid-19 pandemic making Black Friday effectively a cyber-sale event this year — TransUnion found 75% of consumers will do at least half of their shopping online — shoppers must be extra-vigilant about monitoring for malware, credit card fraud and security breaches.
Here are nine signs you were hacked on Black Friday, Cyber Monday or even Giving Tuesday.
- Your credit or debit card gets declined
Avoid the urge to brush off an unexpected payment card decline. That failed transaction could be a sign your account has been compromised. Check your online statements immediately for fraudulent charges. If you spot any, report them to your financial institution and ask for a new card.
If you don’t see any erroneous charges, contact the card issuer to determine what caused the decline.
- Your in-store credit card application is rejected
Store credit cards tend to have high interest rates and limited rewards, but, if you simply must get that 10% instant discount and your application is met with a surprise denial, you need to find out why.
Check your credit score and look for new accounts on your credit report. There are a number of banks and reputable websites online that let you do this for free. You should also request copies of your credit reports from each of the major credit reporting agencies, and consider subscribing to a monitoring service.
- Mysterious accounts appear on your credit report
It is important to do a thorough credit report review because mysterious line items, like financial accounts you didn’t open or credit inquiries you didn’t initiate, are signs that a criminal has gotten hold of your Social Security number and is committing identity theft.
You can check for illicit activity by requesting your free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. Major credit bureaus Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are offering free weekly online reports through April 2021.
- You’re bombarded by pop-up ads
If you are seeing random popup ads (think: “You’ve won a new iPad!), it’s likely your computer’s been infected with adware. Some adware is designed to simply rack up revenue for its distributor via forced views or unavoidable clicks. Other adware has more nefarious intent, targeting your personal or payment information to commit fraud.
- Your computer is running slow
Consider it equally problematic if your computer or smart phone slows down or if software programs or apps randomly crash. These are signs of malware on a device.
Malware is malicious software designed to steal data, infiltrate networks, damage hardware and attack various aspects of our digital lives. You may be able to get rid of it by installing and regularly updating a reputable antivirus program and running a complete scan for new viruses.
- You start spamming your friends and family
You’ve likely been on the receiving end of phony email or social media messages: Harry is stranded in a foreign country and needs you to wire money so he can get home in time for the holidays. David doesn’t want you to miss out on a particularly good Black Friday deal on an LED Smart TV. I can’t believe this video of you!
During the holiday shopping season, it’s a good idea to make sure these mail scams aren’t coming from your email account. Check your sent folder and social media accounts regularly for messages you didn’t send.
- Your login credentials stop working
If you’re locked out of your email or social media accounts, there’s a good chance someone got in using credentials harvested from a data breach or captured in a targeted phishing scheme.
Contact the applicable service provider immediately about what steps you need to take to restore and secure your account. Change all your passwords — and notify your personal contacts about the breach so they can avoid falling victim as well.
- You receive shipments you never ordered
Unless a surprise package is accompanied by a note from the sender, you should beware unexpected packages in the mail. Thieves sometimes infiltrate online shopping accounts and use your stored payment information to order items, but forget to change the shipping address.
Return any unexpected deliveries after checking to see if your account was compromised, and be vigilant about fortifying your online shopping accounts. Reset passwords, replace potentially compromised payment cards and refrain from setting up auto-pay with your new account numbers.
- You receive a formal data breach notification
A little on the nose, we know, but this sign bears mentioning, given there were 1,473 data breaches that exposed over 164 million sensitive records in 2019.
If you receive an email from a retailer that your personal or payment information was compromised in a breach, keep a close eye on all of your online accounts. Update your passwords and consider credit monitoring or, even instituting a credit freeze, which blocks access to your credit reports and precludes thieves from taking out loans or credit cards in your name.
The Bottom Line
‘Tis the season, sadly, for phishers, smishers and thieves. While there’s no guarantee that you’ll get through the shopping season unscathed, there are plenty of steps you can take to avoid fraud, minimize losses after the fact or becoming the gift that keeps on giving.
You should also check with your insurance agent, financial services rep or your employer’s HR Department to see if they offer a program to get you through an identity-related incident. Many are now offering them as a perk of your relationship either for free or at a deep discount.