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New research finds spam – and scams – skyrocket during the pre-Christmas sale season. Here’s what you need to know.
As the holidays approach, and every online retailer and their dog commits to slashing prices to make Christmas shopping (and maybe some treats of your own – go on, you deserve it) easier, our phones and inboxes are starting to fill up with spam.
SAVE NOW! They tell you. BUY NOW FREE SHIPPING, they promise. DEALS YOU CANNOT AFFORD TO MISS… And the list goes on.
But for every “legitimate” piece of spam you receive at this time of year, you’re very likely to receive another that doesn’t offer GREAT SAVINGS, but instead could cost you far more than they promise.
You won’t believe the savings!
Researchers at Bitdefender have been busy monitoring which of this year’s spam messages are naughty and nice, and a lot of them are very naughty.
The percentage of spam messages – that is, marketing emails that are more or less legitimate but also more or less ignored by most people, and scanned by Bitdefender’s anti-spam filters – compared to normal traffic starts to grow as early as Halloween. Once the 2023 calendar ticked over from ghosts and ghouls to waiting for Santa, the percentage doubled.
Admittedly, only from 1 to 2 per cent, but it snowballs pretty fast. Just over a week later, on 10 November, the spam rose to 9 per cent of the total, and the next day, it nearly doubled to 19 per cent. By 13 November – the latest date analysed – spam messages made up 22 per cent of the total.
And overall, according to Bitdefender, only 56 per cent of all Black Friday messages are actually legitimate. The rest are being caught out as scams, many pretending to be from retailers such as Amazon and Walmart, while others rely on luxury brands like Rolex and Ray Ban to trick their victims.
Thankfully for Australians, we’re not even in the top 10 of most targeted countries when it comes to spam. The United States comes out on top, no doubt to chants of “USA! USA! USA!”, with 41 per cent of all Black Friday marketing targeting Americans. It’s a sharp drop off to second place, which is France, with 15 per cent of the total.
Ireland, Germany, and Denmark round out the top 10, and on the bottom rank – with just 2 per cent – is the United Kingdom.
As to where the spam is coming from, the top country might surprise you. The Netherlands is the source of 39 per cent of the world’s marketing email. The US is responsible for 24 per cent, with France coming in a valiant third with 18 per cent.
What to watch out for
This year’s batch of scams is much like earlier years.
“Armed with years of experience, scammers continue to target enthusiastic but unaware consumers with an assortment of ‘amazing deals’ to steal identities and commit fraud,” the Bitdefender report said.
“The 2023 scam agenda looks similar to the one from 2022, as cyber crooks stick to their old tricks, recycling bait they know works. A large chunk of Black Friday scams received by internet users in the past weeks sought to lure recipients with opportunities to claim exclusive early Black Friday deals, promotions and free gift cards or prizes from popular retailers.”
Geotargeting is also a feature of the scams, alongside georestricting, allowing scammers to fine-tune their campaigns.
Some email subjects to watch out for include:
As usual, the best advice we have is that if a deal seems too good to be true – especially if it looks like it’s harvesting an unusual amount of data – it probably is. Check any suspicious messages for branding and look out for bad grammar and poor English skills. Hover over any emails before clicking them so you can double-check the URL that the link is sending you to.
If in doubt, ask a friend for a second opinion.
And if you do fall victim to a scam this Black Friday, get in touch with Scamwatch as soon as possible.
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