Five tips to ensure that you stay one step ahead of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday madness

Stuart Fuller

Despite their origins across the Atlantic, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are now as big a part of the UK’s digital economy as they are in the United States. A few UK retail stores use Black Friday to kick off their Christmas offers, but it certainly doesn’t have the same level of traction in the high streets and shopping centers as it does in America. However, online it’s a different matter.

Amazon’s Black Friday event started on 14th November and will run until midnight on Friday 25th (accessible via www.amazon.blackfriday), whilst the likes of Currys PC World and Argos have all invested heavily in their advertising to try and push people to their websites. It is estimated that us Brits will spend over £4 billion on Friday alone − but how much of that will be spent on legitimate goods?

We all love grabbing a bargain, but sometimes things that seem too good to be true are exactly that. Our suspicious natures seem to disappear in the face of online discounts or adverts on social media where we’re seduced by rock-bottom prices. Counterfeiting is a £17.5 billion problem for the UK economy, according to the report NetNames published this week, and a significant proportion of that number is associated with the period from Black Friday to the New Year.

So how can we stay safe whilst still finding the best deals online? Below you’ll find our five steps to keep you and your personal (and financial) information safe:

  1. Be socially aware. Cybercriminals use the same methods as genuine organizations to drive traffic to their websites to buy their products. This includes posting fantastic offers on social media to hook unsuspecting consumers. Social media networks do not discriminate when someone initially wants to set up a sponsored advertising campaign. So, look carefully at the wording of adverts that appear on your timeline. Many that are placed by those maleficent individuals will have spelling mistakes or poor grammar – for instance, adverts for bargain Moncler products on Instagram in the past few days have contained such errors as referring to the brand as Moncle, Moncleur and Monclerr. Global brands do not make spelling mistakes like this in their advertising. Also, be conscious of following shortened URLs − especially on social media, as you have no idea where you could end up.

  2. Trust no-one. Social media expert Erik Qualman estimates that 90% of our buying decisions are influenced by peer reviews. The biggest opportunity and risk to the travel industry is TripAdvisor, where independent (in theory) customer reviews can make or break a business. Likewise, our fondness for social media leads us to let our guard down when dealing with a company that has a strong footprint – be that Twitter followers or Facebook and Instagram likes. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to buy a footprint in a matter of minutes; for less than $150, anyone can buy 5,000 Twitter and Instagram followers, 500 retweets, 5,000 Facebook likes and 50 Facebook comments. The return on investment in some cases equates to just one sale. Likewise, fake positive (and by that means negative) reviews can also be bought online – one for TripAdvisor costs just $20.

  3. It’s in your domain. The domain name used by an organization gives some very strong hints about the intentions of the seller. Cybercriminals will either use domain names that look like they belong to a famous brand − using mistypes such as MoncIer (the ‘l’ being a capitalized ‘i’) or Monc1er in advertising − or use some of the new gTLDs that haven’t yet been registered by the brands, such as dotShop, dotStore, dotOnline or dotBlackFriday. One other telltale sign is when the domain name was registered. In most instances, domain names that are used by cybercriminals are registered just a couple of days before the launch of their ‘campaigns’. Use a website such as www.who.is to check a domain name that you suspect could be being used for a cybercrime.

  4. Secure your financial information. Any reputable online retailer will use SSL protocol on its login and payment pages to ensure that any personal and financial information transmitted across the Internet is encrypted and away from prying eyes. You can easily tell if a website uses SSL by either the presence of a padlock in the browser bar or the text in the browser turning green. You can also click on the padlock to check the SSL details.

  5. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Many high-end brands do not ‘do’ sales − especially sales offering huge discounts. And they don’t register domain names featuring the words ‘cheap’, ‘discount’, ‘outlet’ or ‘sale’. If you see a product being sold for a significant discount, look at other websites and check how much they are selling the item for. Most genuine sale items will be sold within a small cluster of discounted pricing values – anything significantly outside that cluster should set alarm bells ringing.

By following these simple steps, you become part of the solution rather than the problem of the ever-growing counterfeiting economy. You’ll also ensure that you start the holiday season present, protected and above all prosperous online.