Beware of Fake Apps, Copycat Websites & Unsecure Payment Sites This Holiday
If you have a long holiday gift list, sometimes it's easier to buy online rather than shop at local brick and mortar stores.
This season, I've read that we'll spend close to $91 billion over 61 days, according to Adobe's 2016 Digital Insights Shopping Predictions. The company report claims that Black Friday, which I took part in, sold $3 billion in online sales. It's terrific news for retailers, but there's a group of folks who love the heightened gift buying season too; the rip-off and scam artists behind devious shopping swindles.
AARP offers good suggestions that I echo in order to keep your credit cards and money far away and safe from the hands of con artists.
Bogus apps flood Apple and Android stores imitating familiar retailers like Dollar Tree and luxury brands including Christian Dior. A few have phishing methods that steal personal information and hijack mobile devices until a ransom is paid, says the New York Times.
How to avoid: Before you download, check the logo and description for misspelled words or titles, omitted letters, or poor English, since many originate in China. Avoid the ones with few customer reviews, new apps, or links to apps from other retailers.
The ones that arrive via email, text messages and social media posts and promise a generous reward like a coupon or a product for giving your opinion about future purchases. The links that lead to the survey often hide computer malware that attempt to retrieve personal or financial information.
How to avoid: Be leery of generic "Dear Customer" inquiries. When legitimate companies ask about customer experiences, they personalize using your and the product you bought, along with the date and time of the purchase. You can expect to receive legitimate review emails within 30 minutes after the online transaction. Also, don't fall for expensive reward items just for answering a few questions. Before clicking on any link, hover your mouse over the URL and if the address doesn't display the company's name before the dot com, assume it's a scam.
Beware of copycat websites
Those that mimic well-known retailers. The counterfeit online sites may look like the real deal, but carefully observe the domain address in the URL. It may be off by a letter, or variation of a company name like Walmartco.mn, indicating the website was registered in Mongolia, or walmart.cm for a site in Cameroon.
How to avoid: Pay attention to the product description text and URLs not ending with .com or .org. Check out the Contact Us page to find the business address and verify it by looking up the company on the Internet, or a phone number. If a number is listed, call it to make sure it's working and doesn't lead you to just voicemail. Credible companies have live operators.
Unsecure Payment Sites
If you're buying online, never provide credit card information on any page without an https://. The "s" means it's secure. To stay tuned to current scams, sign up to receive Fraud Scams at AARP: http://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/fraud-watch-network/.
When it Comes to Your Money, Does the Truth Hurt?
“We’ve been arguing about this for year, and here we are in our 50’s. It’s time to stop!” Laura said empathically.
Paul’s downcast eyes and silence spoke volumes.
Laura continued, “We’ve worked with several advisors who have tried to help us invest our money in a sensible way. Then whenever the market goes down, Paul calls the advisor and tells him to sell everything! In all these years, no matter how much we work to build our financial security, we’re always playing catchup.”
Her words hung like a rain cloud about to burst when Paul began to speak. “I know, I know. I just can’t help it. I get nervous that we’re going to lose all our money. When the market goes down, I scramble—in my thoughts and in my actions. The driving force behind it is: At least if it’s in cash, the balance won’t go down.”
This is the moment where I felt I could lend my advice. First, I needed to learn about this particular couple and their values. Then, I could begin helping them take control of their finances.
“Tell me Paul,” I said. “What did you learn about money growing up? What messages did you hear as a child about money? From your father? From your mother?”
Paul’s eyes moved up and to the left, indicating his mind was reaching for memory. “My parents never talked to us kids about money, really. The one thing that stands out is my grandfather talking about The Great Depression and how it was such a tragic time. My parents both worked, but they never made a lot of money. They fought about money sometimes.”
“Any other memories about money?”
“Actually, yes. I remember when my father took me to the bank to open up a passbook savings and how exciting it was. The bank manager typed the passbook on this old manual typewriter and gave it to me. He showed me how the interest on the account added to the amount I deposited. I felt very grown up that day! But I guess that was the sum total of money training from my parents.”
“Can you help me understand how you and Laura make financial decisions?”
The question couldn’t be more impactful if a boulder had landed on his head. While Laura looked at Paul with a mildly accusatory glare, Paul searched for something to say that would keep his well-conceived protective fortress from crumbling. I interjected to ease the tension. I could feel the guilt in the air.
“Let me frame that another way, Paul and Laura. We all do the best we can as we live our lives. Let’s face it, our lives are filled with responsibilities in our families and our jobs, not to mention outside interests, health, and friends. While financial issues are important, unless you either have the knowledge and experience—or the help, most people avoid getting too deep into the confusion of managing their finances by doing the very least they can. What we don’t know scares us. So we defer, delay, make rash decisions based on our lack of time, knowledge, desire. Add a dash of fear to that equation, and you have a formula for financial problems. I want you to know, you are not alone. It’s more common than you could even imagine. The question is, do we allow the truth in so that we can move forward?”
It’s important to admit the truth behind our actions in order to rectify past and future mistakes or regrets. Living in denial only perpetuates making decisions that could potentially lead to financial disaster.
“I hate to admit it,” Paul said. “I guess in my desire to protect Laura from stress, I’ve made decisions that have hurt us, and I’m sorry. Michael, you hit the nail on the head. You defer, avoid, and allow your emotions to take over. And as a result, bad stuff happens. I think I’m ready to ask for help.”
Laura’s expression softened, and said, half-kiddingly, “You think?”
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