Ah, ’tis the season. The suffocating blanket of Christmas shopping has fallen over the country, infecting stores with repetitive holiday music, flashing lights, and gaudy accents of red and green. Companies battle to see who can open the earliest on Black Friday, setting up their stores with a bunch of cheap, discounted items no one would ever want. “But it’s on sale!” The customers scream, pushing and shoving to get in the store first. “70% percent off! I don’t even know what it is but I want it!”

In the hustle and bustle of the holiday shopping season, take the time not to be another victim of a cleverly placed scam. Yes, even though the holidays are supposed to be a time of love and joy, scammers see this season as a prime money-grabbing opportunity. It doesn’t matter how fast that item is selling online or how much you HAVE to get that super popular toy for your kid no matter the cost — pause, think, and consider if your information could be at risk.

Here’s our guide on how NOT to get scammed this holiday season:

  1. Watch for credit card fraud. Look over your statements a few times a month, especially if you’re doing a lot of shopping. Make sure you recognize all of the transactions; if you see an unfamiliar charge, contact your card-issuing bank to investigate it. Cybercriminals will sometimes sneak in fraudulent transactions during busy shopping seasons hoping that the real account holders won’t notice! Some banks offer apps that alert you to transactions, suspicious activities, or new statements. Consider using these to stay up-to-date on your activity.
  2. Be careful about providing personal information. Your email account, phone number, and especially bank account and credit card numbers are all valuable personal information that you should protect. Scammers may send realistic-looking phishing emails to shoppers asking to “confirm a shipment”, “provide payment information”, or “verify a travel booking”, but they’re really trying to steal your personal information. Think before you click on any link in an email, especially if you sense that something may be suspicious.
  3. Make sure you shop on legitimate websites. Always ensure that you’re following links to correctly-spelled web addresses. Using fraudulent web addresses is a real and dangerous tactic: scammers use lookalike addresses like “anazon” (as opposed to “amazon”) to lure unsuspecting shoppers into revealing personal information or downloading malware. Entering a fake site could mean big trouble for your computer and your information.

Be careful of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth toys

If getting your credit card information stolen isn’t bad enough, think twice before buying that Wi-Fi-enabled Furby or watch you saw on your child’s Christmas list. Computers getting hacked isn’t new or shocking anymore, but did you know toys for kids could be hacked? Yes, it’s sad but true. Criminals have stooped so low as to hack Furbies, robots, teddy bears, dolls, and other children’s toys that have Bluetooth connectivity.

You might be saying, “What’s so bad about that? What could they possibly gain from a hacked teddy bear?” and the answer is more than you think. That robot with a camera on the front? Yup, hackers can now find a way to control that camera without anyone knowing and recording everything it sees. What about that doll that your child can speak to and respond? As horror movie-esque as it may sound, hackers have the ability to speak directly to your children through the toy. It’s total nightmare fuel.

Consumer Safety groups have found serious safety flaws in connected children’s toys – everything from teddy bears to smartwatches. The toys in question have unsecured Bluetooth connections, meaning anyone within range of the device can connect to it remotely.

Here’s a guide on purchasing smart toys to keep your family safe:

  1. Carefully read the description of the connected toy. Find out what the toy actually does and how your child will interact with it.
  2. Check what technology it uses. Does it require a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection and, more importantly, does it really need one? Most parents think twice before giving a young child an internet-connected smartphone; think carefully about purchasing an internet-connected toy, too.
  3. Is there a mobile app? If there is, what does it do and does the company talk about security features, such as usernames and passwords? If the app doesn’t have clear security, consider who could access the smart toy outside of your home.
  4. Search online for the toy and its manufacturer. See if there have been any concerns posted online over the toy’s security or how it safeguards the privacy of your child or personal data. Searching the manufacturer’s name tells you if the company’s toys have leaked customer data or gathered information about the child.
  5. Consider whether you really need a connected toy for your child. You don’t have to deny them fun, but consider whether its best to avoid having to think about internet threats until they get older.

Now you have two, easy to follow guides and a lot of new things to worry about this holiday season thanks to us. You’re welcome.

But more seriously, it’s all too easy to become a victim of a scam during the holidays. Remember to stop and think before you click – that sale might be too good to be true, or that weird website might not be entirely reliable, or that URL doesn’t look quite right. Be smart this Black Friday and carry this knowledge with you to Christmas, because no one wants to become another statistic.