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As Black Friday approaches, so do scams, malware, say experts

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OKLAHOMA CITY -- According to the National Retail Federation, millions of Americans will spend billions of dollars through the holiday season, but experts warn that Black Friday deals and internet shopping may not be as reliable or safe as many believe.

Because November and December are busy months for malware infection, an increase in online holiday shopping may be the culprit. However, rushing and camping out at major stores may not be the best choice either, as WalletHub estimates that nearly 8 percent of items are actually more expensive on Black Friday.

Cybersecurity and retail experts have suggestions, however, to reduce the amount of malware and phishing attacks and how to be a smart shopper when buying holiday items.

“We believe the continued spikes in malware are due in large part to increased online activity by holiday shoppers, and increased efforts on the part of malware makers to take advantage of those shoppers,” said Enigma Software Group spokesperson Ryan Gerding. Enigma is the creator of an anti-malware program.

“Simply put, the bad guys know more people will be online looking for deals and checking on orders, and they have stepped up their attacks.”

The National Retail Federation estimates that online holiday sales will increase 11 to 15 percent this year. Enigma, in a recently released report, found that last year, infections detected via SpyHunter jumped 99.23 percent from Black Friday through Christmas. That was a bigger spike than in 2015’s 84 percent and 2014’s 42 percent.

In another report by WalletHub on holiday studies, WalletHub found that more than 8 percent of items will be more expensive on Black Friday than they are currently on Amazon.com, but that certain stores earn the top scores for “Best Stores for Black Friday.”

“You should first ask yourself whether you really need this product. Understanding your need is the first step,” said Shahriar Glas, assistant professor of marketing in the College of Business Administration at Nicholls State University in Louisiana. “Once you know what you are going to buy, you should do some sort of price check before Black Friday. Spend some time and do some homework in evaluating these deals. Always check the website and retailers’ online page for a better deal.”

Usually, electronics and high-price tag items are those that get substantially discounted during Black Friday, but Michal Herzenstein, associate professor of economics for the University of Delaware, said that just because an item is discounted doesn’t mean it should be purchased.

“The rule of thumb should always be ‘buy because you need the item, not because it is discounted or in limited qualities,’” she said. “In other words, don’t buy yet another vacuum cleaner just because there are only two of them left. Do your research and know what an item you want is priced at regularly, and then compare.”

HOLIDAY PHISHING

For online shoppers, phishing emails are becoming more sophisticated, according to Enigma. Phishing emails look like messages from legitimate online retailers that usually show a receipt for a purchase that a shopper did not make. Because the user thinks a mistake has been made, they are urged to click on a link to “fix” the problem, which usually leads to more malware.

“Here is an example. The email looks like a receipt from PayPal for an online order for a coffee gift set. If you got this email in your inbox, you would probably think, ‘Wait, I never ordered coffee via PayPal, something’ wrong,” said Gerding. “Then you might click on the link in the mail that says ‘Cancel Now.’ But that link does not go to the PayPal website. Instead, it takes you to an unknown site that will install malware on your computer.”

Phishing emails are becoming more believable, and Gerding said users should never click on a link in an email from an online retailer. Instead, shoppers should log on directly into their retailer account directly from a web browser.

“We’ve seen fake emails like this that purport to be from PayPal, Apple, Etsy and others,” Gerding said. “The malware makers know that this time of year, people may be expecting emails from these retailers, and may be more likely to click on a link.”

BEST WAYS TO PROTECT

According to Gerding, online shoppers should take the following steps to make sure they don’t fall victim to malware.

1. Make sure the computer’s operating system is up-to- date and is scheduled to install updates automatically.

2. Computers should have a reliable anti-malware software installed that runs frequent scans and updates.

3. Never click on links in suspicious or unsolicited emails. Sometimes, emails may appear to come from a legitimate source but are, in fact, spam and may contain malicious links.

4. Be wary of unfamiliar websites that ask you to install software before continuing with your shopping. Unwanted or unfamiliar sites may have malicious scripts or links.

5. Be cautious of links found in social media messages. Such links include those found on Twitter direct messages and messages sent via Facebook. Potentially malicious messages may look like they are coming from friends, but there’s a good chance their account has been compromised.

ESG will be monitoring infection counts this holiday season to track infection trends. Last year infections jumped 99.23 percent during the holiday shopping season.

The first Monday following Thanksgiving is also a high-danger time for malware when many online retailers have special sales. Other days are dangerous as well. In 2016, when the busiest day was Wednesday, Dec. 14, infections rose 120.6 percent higher than normal.

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Heide Brandes

Heide Brandes is an award-winning journalist and editor with more than 18 years of experience....

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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