Valentine’s Day to Black Friday scams: how to spot fake online deals

online shopping scams illustration
Corey McAuley
Corey McAuley
11 Apr 2024
5 min read

Whatever the occasion, scammers know how to take advantage of seasonal spending. The rush to buy candy, flowers and jewelry for Valentine’s Day. The surge of online deals and cheap offers just in time for Christmas. Summer vacation scams. Halloween scams. Cyber Monday and Black Friday scams. Online shopping is a year-round activity – and scammers will try anything to take our hard-earned cash.

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How much money do we lose to Black Friday scams?

Online shopping is a lucrative market for scammers, but even more so during busy holiday shopping seasons when many retailers advertise huge savings. And the scams are only increasing in frequency.

A 22% surge in Black Friday scams in 2022 meant UK shoppers who fell victim to scams lost an average of £970 during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday period. But Black Friday scams are just the beginning. According to the National Cyber Security Centre, £10.6 million was lost by British consumers to online scammers between the entire holiday season of November 2022 to January 2023. During the same period in the US, the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center reported that US shoppers lost $73 million to scammers.

How do shopping scammers rip us off?

The retail industry is so huge for scammers that nearly 1 in 4 of us fall victim to online shopping scams, with favorite tactics including fake emails offers, scam retail websites, and bogus surveys. So what can you look out for to make sure you avoid fake websites and buy from genuine online stores instead?

1. Fake email offers

As retailers rush to capitalize on the most profitable shopping times of the year, they’ll flood your inbox with great – and often time-sensitive – offers. In some emails, it can be difficult to tell apart the genuine deals from your favorite brands and the scammers imitating them to spread phishing links.

Fake Ray-Ban website

Let’s take popular sunglasses brand Ray-Ban, for example. This scammer has emailed claiming to offer a significant price reduction on sunglasses, creating a sense of urgency to get you to click (“limited-time offer”) with a huge discount of 90%. While online sales can allow you to grab a bargain, they’re never that good. So, if a discount seems unbelievable, it probably is. 

2. Scam retail websites

Scammers have a multitude of tricks to get their dodgy links out to the masses – from convincing you to click links in scam emails to advertising fake products on social media. So, learning how to spot scam websites is the key to keeping your money safe.

Fake Ray Ban website
Real Ray Ban website

Links from fake emails or social media pages often lead to fake websites that somewhat resemble a genuine retailer’s site, just like in the example above. But you don’t need to click through to figure out if it’s a fake – the easiest way to tell whether a retail website is genuine or not is from its URL.

For desktop users, simply hover over any links in an email to see the destination URL without clicking on the link. If you’re using mobile, press and hold down on the link and a bubble will pop up with the full URL. Look out for:

  • A domain that doesn’t feel very official, such as “”.

  • Typos. A single swapped letter can turn genuine a Ray-Ban into a knock-off Rey-Ban.

  • An obscure top-level domain such as ‘.top’ or ‘.ru’ instead of ‘.com’.

3. Trick surveys

Another favorite tactic by scammers is using the lure of free things. Specifically, offering free gift cards as a reward for completing surveys. Scammers rely on some of the biggest brands in the world to complete these scams, masquerading as companies such as Amazon to get us to click dodgy links.

Fake Amazon survey

To tell if a survey is fake, consider:

  • Is the gift disproportionate to what you’re being asked to do?

  • Is there time pressure to complete it quickly? (A countdown timer is a big red flag)

  • Are you being asked to pay any money upfront or pay for postage costs? Remember that legitimate surveys don’t ask for money.

5 tips to avoid falling victim to shopping scams

While the holiday season is an exciting time to shop for deals and gifts for loved ones, it’s also a time when there’s an increased risk of fraud – with Black Friday scams in particular permeating the internet.

However, by taking proactive measures and remaining vigilant as you make online purchases, it’s possible to shop safely for Valentine’s Day, for your summer vacation, and across the festive period.

  1. Check for free if a website is safe to buy from using our instant F‑Secure Online Shopping Checker. Just copy, paste and submit the URL you’d like to check – it’s as simple as that.

  2. Double check URLs and email addresses. For webpages, make sure the browser starts with ‘https’ instead of ‘http’ – ‘https’ means your connection is encrypted. For emails, it’s a big red flag if the sender’s name and email address don’t match, or if there are typos.

  3. Avoid too-good-to-be-true prices and unusual payment methods. Legitimate retailers ensure that their shipping and billing forms are correct, clean and functional. Proper forms will verify that the correct characters are entered properly for each field, such as your zip code.

  4. Go directly to a seller’s website. Trust your gut – if something feels suspicious, it may well be. So don’t click the link and instead go directly to the retailer’s site in your browser.

  5. Keep your money safe with online security. Our all-in-one security app, F-Secure Total, protects you even when you don’t suspect a scam.


total app on different devices

Keep shopping scammers at bay with F‑Secure Total

Shop online worry-free with Total’s Trusted Shopping and Browsing Protection features. 

  • Learn how trustworthy the online stores that you want to buy from are. 

  • Avoid deals that are too good to be true and make safe online purchases. 

  • Blocks your access to dangerous webpages completely. 

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