Cyber Monday: Beware of bogus deals and preying scammers

Pricewatch: Consumers need their wits about them amid relentless coverage of ‘bargains’

Of those participating in this season’s sales events, 72 per cent are holding off purchases until the event. Photograph: Getty Images/iStock

Of those participating in this season’s sales events, 72 per cent are holding off purchases until the event. Photograph: Getty Images/iStock

 

It’s just another Cyber Monday. Or is it? With more Irish people shopping online than at any point in our retail history, it almost seems like every day is Cyber Monday. And yes, we are now finished with the 1980s song references, at least for today.

Every year for more than a decade, this Monday of the year has marked the day when newspapers and websites all over the world – including this very small part of it – have written about the amazing deals to be found on websites as far apart as San Francisco, Shanghai and Sligo.

The relentless coverage of Cyber Monday has almost made it seem like it is a real thing.

But it isn’t – or at least not really. For a start, many of the deals which will be promoted today will be bogus and a canny consumer could easily find the products selling cheaper in the weeks and months before or after the big day.

And it’s not like today even marks the busiest day of the year for online shopping, unlike when the term Cyber Monday was first coined in 2005.

That was the year when a website in the United States called shop.org issued a press release that read: “While traditional retailers will be monitoring store traffic and sales on Black Friday, online retailers have set their sights on something different: Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, which is quickly becoming one of the biggest online shopping days of the year.”

The website sent out its release in response to a trend which had seen a dramatic spike in shopping on the Monday after Thanksgiving among people going back to work after the extended holiday and using office broadband to binge-shop. The notion quickly moved across the Atlantic and it now seems that it is here to stay or at least until the next retail wheeze comes along.

But are the bargains real and what should we be looking out for? The people at the European Consumer Centre (ECC) have been focusing on Cyber Monday in recent days and they suggest that to make sure people get the best deals available they should have their wits about them.

“We’ve all seen examples of ‘deals’ where retailers simply inflate the prices before reducing them down again in order to give customers the impression of getting ‘a huge discount’, so it’s advisable to track the price of your chosen product to see if the end price represents a genuine net reduction after tax and shipping added in,” a spokeswoman says.

Cross-reference

It might be a bit late for that now but something you could do today is Google the product, which a company is claiming to sell at a substantial discount, and see where else it is being sold and for how much. It will also be worth noting whether or not other retailers selling it at the same price are claiming it is discounted.

The ECC also says people should never forget that Cyber Monday – and Black Friday before it – is a way for retailers to shift surplus summer stock and may be an opportunity to clear some warehouse space for Christmas stock, “so the selection of reduced items are not what you may expect or, indeed, worth buying even with the reduction in price”.

The spokeswoman says businesses must also ensure that the terms and time limits of a deal are clear and that they can supply the on-sale products for the increased demand generated by the promotional campaigns.

That is why customers should carefully consider “while stocks last” claims as it may be that only a small number of a particular product is available, meaning it could be an end-of-line product that will sell out very quickly.

And sometimes substantial discounts may not, in the end, be available to most customers. This happens when businesses fail to ensure enough consumers can take advantage of products sold at the highest discount point stated rather than many products at the lowest end. So don’t be disappointed that by the time you get to the sale page the largest discounts are gone.

The ECC warns against letting the lure of a huge discount make you buy what is ultimately a poor-value product. “Think of the discounted price as a bonus rather than using it as your starting point for your purchase.”

It warns against falling for old news. Cyber Monday is great for high-end tech products and entertainment gadgets, the spokeswoman says. “But remember that the sales are also a way for shops to shift old stock quickly before it becomes obsolete. While you might get a great price, you inadvertently might be buying old technology which comes with limited features and compatibility issues that are outside warranty and/or are no longer supported by the manufacturer.”

Finally, the ECC says people should always check the small print: “The rules that govern special offers and flash sales can be vague. Marketing tactics can make offers look better than they are. You may find that shops advertise ‘X% Off Everything!*’ followed by ‘*exclusions apply’. So make sure you are getting the product you want, at the right price.”

Scammers

With so much money changing hands online in recent weeks and more likely to change hands today and in the weeks ahead, it is inevitable that scammers will be out and about, looking to part us from our money.

According to the Cyber Risk Index (CRI), calculated by tech company NordVPN, residents of developed countries are more likely to become victims of cybercrime despite the fact they consider themselves tech-savvy and well-protected.

For example, Ireland ranks seventh globally with a CRI score of 0.664, which is considered a high risk. Developed countries offer better access to the internet and higher wages, which translates to more smartphones and heavy usage of online services.

But how do fraudsters find their victims? According to NordVPN, emails and website banners are “a cybercriminal’s bread and butter”.

Typically fraudsters will copy legitimate commercial practices and they will rely on advertising engines such as Facebook and Google to push their banners on users. While the tech giants have safeguards in place, some fraudulent banners slip through the net.

Offers that look too good to be true or links received from banks or insurance companies are perfect examples of a con artist’s methods

Some scammers also study their future victims and analyse their online behaviour, which can be easily done if the victim is browsing the web unprotected. This is why it is important to check the websites you’re looking at have HTTPS in their address.

There are also red flags to watch out for. Offers that look too good to be true or links received from banks or insurance companies are perfect examples of a con artist’s methods. The opportunistic cybercriminal relies on social engineering to trick you into giving away your account details.

According to Daniel Markuson, digital privacy expert at NordVPN, the five major scenarios scammers will be exploiting in 2020 are as follows:

Fake invoices

Paying an invoice that looks exactly like a utility bill can easily happen when people make more transactions than usual. This type of scam is called authorised push payment fraud. Even once the penny has dropped and the victim has caught on to the crime, the payment can’t be reversed.

Bank notifications

Fraudsters mimic emails sent by banks, claiming that recent purchases the victim has made couldn’t be processed. After clicking a dodgy link inside that email, the unfortunate victim is duped once again. The hacker would have recreated a fake bank website to look exactly like the genuine article, created specifically to fool people into giving away their bank credentials.

“Your order has been cancelled”

Similar to the previous example, these scams typically start with a link that leads to a suspicious website. The link is accompanied by an email that claims one of your recent online orders is out of stock and urges the recipient to claim their refund. Once again, the victim is pushed to enter their bank account details, unfortunately leading to cybercriminals completely clearing them out of all their cash.

Lookalike pages

Amazo?.com, eday.com, googIe.comv – most users do not spot the discrepancies in the address bar as long as the website design looks legitimate. They process the payment for the items in their shopping cart and end up robbed.

Renew your membership

Once you’re finished with your purchases, scammers will send you an email claiming that your Amazon Prime subscription is due and the discount cannot be applied. If you want your items to get delivered, you have to renew the subscription – which, of course, ultimately leads to stolen credentials.

Scale of online shopping

In recent months we have been highlighting the EY Future Consumer Index which has looked at how Covid-19 is changing our behaviour across the board. The most recent index is looking at the scale, scope and stickiness of the deep pivot to online shopping.

As what it describes as “Deep Covid” becomes normalised, the index shows 39 per cent of consumers will shop online for things they used to buy in stores, while a similar number believe the way they shop will change over the long term.

“It’s almost a year since the first Covid-19 cases were recorded and it’s clear that this period of acute uncertainty will be with us for some time yet,” the report says. “We’ve moved from peak Covid to what might be called ‘Deep Covid’.”

It says consumers are moving away from the initial shock of living with a pandemic and toward an acceptance that this is how things are now. “Many are still reflecting on how they plan to live differently in the future but with the restrictions and challenges of daily life becoming business as usual, the majority of consumers are doing their best to get on with things.”

The fifth EY Future Consumer Index of the year suggests that globally 37 per cent of consumers think the pandemic will keep impacting their lives for at least another year. The percentage rises to 43 per cent in Europe and 66 per cent in Japan while consumers in India and China are noticeably more optimistic.

The report also points to one clear impact of the crisis – the rapid transition to online shopping. “The speed of this transition to digital has challenged consumer-facing companies. Among the most pressing questions that business leaders want to answer are where and how this continuing online surge will make itself felt and what will stick?”

The index uses four segments to shed light on how the consumer’s shopping intentions and expectations vary across different categories, channels and markets, and how they plan to change their spending during this year’s holiday season.

The report suggests the pandemic is clearly taking a financial toll on many consumers and putting them under great emotional stress with 40 per cent of people saying they have seen their incomes decrease and 60 per cent thinking more carefully about how they spend their money.

Forty-one per cent have cut spending on non-essentials, while 46 per cent are postponing the purchase or replacement of big-ticket items.

The report also shows almost three-quarters of consumers are planning to spend less in the future and will shift more of their spending online for products they previously purchased in-store.

In some cases that move has been forced on them – they can’t shop in the way they used to. Others see the move online as a more positive choice. One consequence of this sudden tilt towards ecommerce is that we’ve seen a decade of digital disruption in a matter of months. Some businesses have experienced significant topline growth. The question now is what experience do they need to provide in order to win – and hold on to – a share of that move to online?

EY says it is critical for businesses to understand how consumers are changing their shopping channels in the face of the pandemic but a pressing concern for many will be the upcoming holiday shopping events and seasonal sales.

Some will be asking how best they can capitalise on these opportunities, others will be trying to survive.

Its data suggests 42 per cent of consumers plan to spend less than a year ago in this season’s sales events, while 13 per cent will spend more. Of those who will participate, 72 per cent are holding off purchases until the event and most will participate mainly via online channels.

Yvonne Kiely, customer and digital director and head of EY-Seren, says Irish retailers were not as prepared as they could have been for the exponential increase in online shopping (and future predicted increase) as a result of Covid.

“But we have seen a huge amount of innovation and adaptation across industries and sectors to build capability in this space since March,” she says. “There is little point in most Irish retailers trying to transform between now and Christmas but I would encourage all Irish retailers – large and small – to use the new year to focus on everything from a consumer perspective to solidify their resilience in the new world order.”

Kiely says there has also been encouraging and helpful support from social-media influencers, who have promoted Irish retailers.

Support Irish jobs by ‘clicking green’

Digital Business Ireland (DBI), an umbrella group covering digital, ecommerce and online businesses in Ireland, is urging consumers to support businesses and jobs in Ireland by making an effort to click green and buy nearby when shopping online today and in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

The group was prompted by the “huge surge in online shopping”, fuelled by Covid-19 and the associated restrictions, to drive awareness of the importance of supporting businesses in Ireland during a time of great disruption.

It points to the Tipping Point Report, compiled by .IE and DBI, which we have also highlighted in recent weeks, that suggests 47 per cent of all online spending in Ireland during the Covid-19 pandemic has gone to businesses operating outside the country. All told 67 per cent of those buying from local online sellers are doing so out of a sense of solidarity.

“The key objective of our campaign is to encourage online shoppers to make a concerted effort to purchase goods and products from local websites in order to help these businesses bounce back,” says Lorraine Higgins, chief executive of DBI. “We know the vast majority of online shoppers want to support Irish businesses so tapping into this sense of patriotism for the economic good of the country is crucial.”

Higgins is “appealing to people’s sense of national solidarity” as Christmas approaches and consumers’ minds focus on buying presents for families, friends and colleagues.

“There are many benefits from clicking green and supporting businesses in Ireland from a trust, safety and price transparency which is not always the case with international sellers,” she says. “By clicking green and buying nearby you will be helping the recovery of businesses, protecting jobs and communities at a time of great difficulty.”

The campaign to click green is being supported by Permanent TSB and its spokeswoman Mags Brennan stresses there “has never been a more important time to support local businesses”. She says if the predicted consumer spending for this festive season, valued at more than €4 billion, was all directed towards local businesses it “would be a huge uplift for many SMEs supporting over one million jobs in our community”.