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Don’t let Black Friday become Hack Friday


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MANCHESTER, NH – Hackers, just like many holiday shoppers, prepare for Black Friday. In fact, they started doing it months ago, according to cybersecurity company NordLayer.

Nordlayer analyzed Black Friday-related keywords on the dark web and discovered that hackers, back in April, were already preparing to take advantage of cyber shoppers – and not just this month, though that’s a big part of the focus.

“Black Friday became synonymous with getting great deals, so this keyword is popular year-round,” Carlos Salas, a cybersecurity expert and head of web engineering at NordLayer, said Tuesday. “Vendors on the dark web marketplaces know that when a potential customer sees the term ‘Black Friday,’ they will likely be attracted to the idea of saving, regardless of what season it is.”

Black Friday is traditionally the day after Thanksgiving, when retailers offer deals to kick off the holiday shopping season. In recent years, it’s seeped into the rest of the month. Last year, consumers spent $9.1 billion online the day after Thanksgiving, up 2.3% from 2021, according to NordLayer. NordLayer found that fraud losses on Black Friday and Cyber Monday – the Monday after Thanksgiving – were up 22% last year.

But the company also found that the phrase is a trigger to buy for consumers, and fraudsters take advantage of that, no matter what time of year it’s used. “Black Friday” has come to be associated with getting a great deal, and dark web hackers use it to offer fraudsters discounts on leaked data, illegal substances or services, according to NordLayer. Those perpetuating fraud are also using it to lure consumers in.

“Black Friday has become a breeding ground for scams and fraudulent activities on the dark web,” Salas said in a news release Tuesday about the research. “Cybercriminals are also gearing up to exploit the excitement and vulnerabilities of consumers.”

It’s not just consumers who are vulnerable to scams, but also businesses, Salas added. “Companies might experience double the risk, because frauds often copy their websites or send phishing emails on behalf of trustworthy businesses, creating reputational risk.”

While Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving, which is Nov. 23 this year, the planning and execution of scams associated with it start months before. April was the biggest month for Black Friday searches on the dark web, NordLayer found. In September, searches doubled from those in August, the company also found.

“The possible reason behind this early start is the need to establish a network of resources, from stolen personal data to compromised accounts, to facilitate their scams when Black Friday arrives,” Salas said. “Criminals also seek to exploit the heightened sense of urgency and excitement surrounding the holiday season to deceive unsuspecting shoppers.”

Subscription services are among the most popular fraud bargains on the dark web, NordLayer said.

Popular retailers are also prime targets. Research indicates that cybercriminals predominantly target popular online retailers, with Amazon, eBay, and Target topping the list, according to NordLayer. “These platforms offer a massive customer base and a wide range of products, making them ideal targets for fraudsters,” the release said.

For example, searches for keywords like “Amazon,” one of the world’s largest e-commerce platforms, grew by more than 45% in January, 15% in May, and 13% in March, compared to the average of the last 12 months. A recent crackdown against cybercrime in India raided 76 illicit call centers posing as Microsoft and Amazon.

Salas said that even though Black Friday “is a convenient occasion for fraudsters to try to exploit data or money with a higher success rate,” consumers should be vigilant year-round.

“Scammers clone websites of popular retailers due to their familiarity. Such websites create an illusion of trustworthiness. Thus, some buyers get bamboozled,” he said.

Organizations that track scams, including the FBI and Federal Trade Commission, say that scammers are getting more sophisticated, as consumers get more sophisticated. If you get any type of email, text or call from what seems to be a legitimate business or service, but it’s for something you didn’t buy or is for some great offer, don’t contact the number or link. Find the actual website or business customer service online, and call or check through the legitimate website. No legitimate business is going to fault you for double-checking a deal, offer or invoice.

The Federal Trade Commission reported last month that American consumers lost more than $2.7 billion in the past two years to scams that came through social media alone.

With any email, text or social media method, look out for red flags like it coming from a gmail address, the company name or logo looking odd, and other things that seem off. In general, though, don’t click links or call numbers on unsolicited texts, messages or emails, no matter how legitimate they may seem.

Some of the most common scams are:

Phishing scams. Phishing attacks are the most prevalent type of scam. Scammers use a sense of urgency to pressure people into making fast decisions. Phishing is designed to get account and other information from a victim. If you get an unsolicited offer or invoice, check it out by going to the actual website of the retailer. DO NOT click on any link it may provide, or call a number on the email or text you get. Don’t get drawn in by pressure to act immediately.

Fake websites. Scammers create fake online stores that mimic the appearance of well-known retailers. They offer products at incredibly low prices to lure in shoppers, but they never deliver the goods. Red flags are misspelled domain names, numbers instead of letters, or a subdomain in the website URL code. 

 Gift card scams. Be cautious when buying gift cards from third-party sellers, especially online. Scammers may sell counterfeit or empty gift cards, leaving them with a worthless purchase. Or you may be asked to buy gift cards, then give the card information to a third party. Never buy gift cards at someone else’s request, and never share the card number or information with someone you don’t know.

Fake order or invoice confirmation. Be careful with messages, phone calls, and emails containing information about a delivered package or confirmed order that you can’t remember making. A new scam making the rounds involves sending an invoice for services you didn’t purchase – sometimes for computer security or bitcoin. The scammer is banking on the fact you will call the number provided to tell them that you didn’t order the service. The person on the other end will likely tell you you’ve been hacked, then trick you into giving bank, PayPal or Venmo information. If you get an invoice or order for something that you didn’t buy, delete it. Check through legitimate customer service – not the number or email address information provided on the fake invoice or order – if you are afraid you’re going to get charged for something you didn’t buy. [See box for more information]

 Social media scams. 88% of all purchase and phishing scams are delivered through social media. Think before you click, and don’t chase “too-good-to-be-true” deals. Even if it’s not too good to be true, or looks like it came from your bank, or other trusted source, don’t click on the link or call the number provided in the text, message or email. Find the actual company information online or on your card and contact the company that way.


About this Contributor

Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken is a contract reporter and content producer for consumer financial agencies. She has worked for northern New England publications, including the New Hampshire Union Leader, for 25 years, and most recently at Mainebiz in Portland, Maine. She can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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