Click Once, Think Twice: #ShopSafe this Cyber Monday

The biggest shopping weekend of the year continues into today, with an estimated 56 percent of Americans planning to shop this Cyber Monday.

The retail industry is responding in fashion: businesses have been touting their holiday deals for weeks now. And while some consumers still choose to access these deals with coupons and store ad cutouts, many are turning to apps and smart phone add-ons to fill their shopping carts. In fact, the National Retail Federation found that 59% of consumers surveyed this year revealed they prefer online shopping to traditional brick-and-mortar shopping.

As the e-commerce space grows, so does the importance of safe shopping. Cyber Monday shoppers especially must be aware of the prevalence of counterfeiters online. Counterfeiters are becoming more and more sophisticated, using the power of the Internet to trick consumers into buying fake products.

Many counterfeiters operate websites that are nearly indistinguishable from websites selling legal goods. These websites have domain names that imply an association with a trusted brand name and are filled with designs and photos that mimic the designs and photos found on legitimate websites. In the U.S., nearly 65% of consumers are not confident they can tell the difference between rogue and valid websites.

These websites deliver shoddy, sometimes dangerous counterfeit products. The hazards of counterfeit goods cannot be understated. See our piece here for more information. But when it comes to purchasing counterfeit goods online, consumers are at risk from the first mouse click. Counterfeiters use their websites to install vicious malware that launches these phishing attacks.

According to a 2017 Cyber Monday Phishing Survey, two in five American consumers have fallen victim to an online phishing attack. These phishing attacks obtain sensitive information from their victims, like important usernames and passwords, credit card information, personal addresses, and even family photos.

Phishers often gain access to this information without a victim’s knowledge; the victim only discovers the breach once their finances have been compromised or their identities have been stolen. Some phishers even bribe victims, asking for money in exchange for the safe return of their information.

In order to avoid these threats, consumers should closely monitor their Internet activity and scrutinize the websites they visit.

First, look in the address bar of your browser and evaluate the domain name. Make sure you see the “s” in https: it stands for secure and signals the authentication of a website’s information exchange process. Extra letters or blatant misspellings in the URL are sure signs of a fake website. And if you see extra words like “deals,” “sales,” or “discounts” in the URL, you are likely dealing with a fake website. If you’re unsure whether a website is legitimate, call upon the Google Transparency Report or another verified regulator to help.

Next, scour the website for additional inconsistences. Poor-quality photos, shoddy design, spelling and grammar mistakes, and missing or incomplete contact information are red flags.

Finally, be wary of pop-up ads, social media ads, links in e-mails, and other third-party invitations. If you’re interested in the content you see on such an invitation, go directly to the site yourself instead of clicking the link.

A few seconds of research can save you – and your personal information – from an unpleasant online shopping experience. So as you hit the web for the season’s hottest clothes, toys, and gadgets, hit the pause button with each purchase and ask yourself: am I shopping safe?

Frank Cullen is executive director of U.S. intellectual property policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Innovation Policy Center. 

Subscribe for updates from GIPC