Think before you click: watch out for these scams while shopping online

Derek Arbogast
·4 min read

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Make sure you're actually using PayPal and not a nefarious imposter this holiday season. (Photo: Getty)
Make sure you're actually using PayPal and not a nefarious imposter this holiday season. (Photo: Getty)

Funny—and sad—thing about the internet: every technological advance that brings new, awesome conveniences come with new, awesome dangers. So it is with online-payment apps like PayPal and Venmo: They enable one-click shopping with the major online retailers, simplify paying membership fees, charitable donations and paying a friend back. But all that convenience means there’s a lot of money electronically changing hands...and lots of opportunity for scammers to get in on the action using your Venmo or PayPal account.

E-commerce in the time of COVID-19 is especially alluring, as so many of us are keeping our distance from brick-and-mortar retail. All the more reason to know what you’re up against out there and how to avoid getting taken. Here’s a rundown of some of the most common frauds.

Scam #1: PayPal “Account Problems”

Beware of this scam: you get an ominous email telling you that your account has been frozen or is in danger of being suspended, telling you to click on a provided link ASAP to set things right. Well...don’t, according to Ruston Miles, Founder and Advisor at Bluefin, a payment encryption company. Instead, go straight to the horse’s mouth (i.e., Paypal’s website) to see if it’s the real thing. “I just go and log into PayPal myself and go to the messaging center,” he tells Yahoo Life. “I click and see, ‘Okay, they did send me a message, great.’” If not, delete that email, immediately.

Scam #2 Advance Payment Fraud

Another scam involves getting a message, allegedly from someone you know, informing you of a big payday coming your way: an inheritance, lawsuit payout, contest winnings or “found money” of some kind. The catch: you first need to pay a “processing fee.”

Ruston suggests doing due diligence by going “out of band”—i.e., responding to the sender using another platform. “If I get a message like that in an email, I might go to their LinkedIn page instead and say, ‘Hey, I got an email about that thing—that was you, right?’”

It probably wasn’t. Two things to remember: 1) You should never have to pay money to get paid, and 2) As Ruston puts it: “There are no free lunches on the internet.”

One solution to help you resist being duped by a scam: Malwarebytes Premium software. It warns you when you accidentally visit malicious or fraudulent websites that contain threats like phishing scams, tech support scams, and malicious advertising.

Shop it: Malwarebytes Premium, free trial for 30 days then $4.99 a month, subscriptions.yahoo.com

Venmo or Ven-NO? Make sure you're doing business with the real thing.  (Photo: Getty)
Venmo or Ven-NO? Make sure you're doing business with the real thing. (Photo: Getty)

Scam #3: Charitable contribution and investment scams

Watch out for this scam, where scammers research personal information about you; lifting info gleaned from our social media pages. Then they send bogus charity appeals targeting your interests. Why does it work? “People give because they think, ‘Oh, well, it’s only five or ten bucks,’” says Ruston. “The problem is if you get ensnared by one of those things, they may a) try it again because now they see you as a gullible or b) have gotten ahold of certain account information about you and can later attempt a full account takeover or an identity theft.” So verify the source of any fundraising messages (check that URL!), and do your giving through official organization websites.

Malwarebytes Premium is state-of-the-art software that adds a much-needed layer of protection to these kinds of phishing scams and includes extra layers of web protection that blocks users from clicking through to malicious phishing sites and email links.

Shop it: Malwarebytes Premium, free trial for 30 days then $4.99 a month, subscriptions.yahoo.com

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