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How to Avoid Black Friday Scams Online

Black Friday attracts crowds, and crowds attract scammers, and that means you need to take extra care when shopping online over the Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend. There’ll be people out there eager to relieve you of more money than you’ll save on a TV set or a gaming console.

The following precautions apply any time of year, but it’s worth reminding yourself of them every time a serious holiday season comes around. In the rush to get gifts sorted, it’s all too easy to miss a warning sign, or get complacent about online security.

Update All Your Software

Keeping programs and operating systems up to date is important enough that Microsoft, Apple, Google, Mozilla, and all the other big names in tech now make it difficult for anyone to lag behind with their updates—most of the time you’ll be prompted regularly to install new versions of your software, and it might even happen automatically in the background without you noticing.

Today’s browsers, apps, and OSes are adept at spotting scams as they happen, whether it’s phishing emails (designed to lure you to a fake shopping or banking site) or unauthorized logins on your accounts. To make the most of this built-in security, ensure you’re running the latest versions across the board, which means the latest security patches—if you’ve been putting off updates on your phone or your computer, then get them done ahead of Black Friday.

If you do have a laptop that’s too old to run the latest versions of Windows or macOS, avoid using it if possible—you’ll be safer shopping on your phone, as long as it’s running the most recent Android or iOS updates. On Android, you can check for updates via System and System Update in Settings; on iOS, it’s Settings and then General and Software Update.

Be Wary of Email and Social Media Deals

You’re likely to be inundated with special offers over email and social media this Black Friday, but be careful when it comes to clicking through on deals that come from suspicious sources (stores you’ve never shopped at before, for example). Always check that the link you clicked sent you to the website you were expecting to visit.

There’s no hard and fast way to guarantee you’ll never get caught out by a dodgy link (apart from just ignoring them all completely), but you can minimize the risk: Check that the social media account or email address sending the link is genuine, head to the site in question in a separate browser window to see whether you can find the same offer advertised, and be sure the offer you’re looking at is the one that was promoted.

If your browser is up to date, as we mentioned above, dangerous links should be blocked before you reach them, but we’d still recommend being wary. You’ll see some great offers advertised over social media and email, but no discount is worth the risk of exposing yourself to scammers.

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