The Evolution of Holiday Thievery

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, kicks off the holiday shopping season. Retailers advertise Black Friday bargains in order to lure you through their doors.

As far back as I can remember, police have been warning of thieves who target cars in parking lots, smashing windows to steal shopping bags left in plain sight. Then, we’d be warned that as the Christmas lights went up, thieves would target the wrapped gifts underneath the tree. I thought, “It can’t get worse than this?”

Then Cyber Monday came along. It was born as a marketing opportunity that has taken on a life of its own over the past five or six years. Online retailers promote their Cyber Monday offers throughout the fall, creating hype that whips shoppers into a frenzy. It’s become as essential to the retail community as Black Friday.

Now the warnings are different: no longer so focused on crime in the physical world, but instead, on threats in the virtual world.

When shopping online, you risk unintentionally visiting an infected website, which could infect your PC with keylogging spyware, which would be used to steal your data. Or you might provide your credit card information to a legitimate online merchant that later falls victim to a data breach. Another risk is that you might order a particular product but receive something of lesser quality, or a different item entirely, and then have to contend with poor customer service.

And, of course, your identity might get stolen. Lovely. My, how times have changed!

Online retailers would spread more holiday cheer if they did their part to protect the public from credit card fraud by implementing device reputation. Device reputation, offered by iovation Inc., taps into a global device identification network that also contains millions of verified fraud and abuse events such as chargebacks, identity theft, shipping fraud on those devices. The device’s reputation is assessed in real time when a transaction is being attempted on a retailer’s website.  And when the device (such as a computer, phone or tablet) has no prior history, iovation profiles its potential risk for the online retailer, identifying high-risk activity before the transaction is approved or product shipped.

Stopping fraudulent transactions upfront spares many holiday revelers the burden of covering the bill for the gift lists of cyber criminals.

Robert Siciliano, personal security and identity theft expert contributor to iovation, discusses identity theft  in front of the National Speakers Association. (Disclosures)

Black Friday Launches Holiday Fraud Horrors

The Christmas shopping season traditionally kicks off on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. This also begins a time when criminals swarm the shopping malls as well as the Internet, seeking to take advantage of holiday opportunities.

When shopping in stores, keep the following in mind:

Employees: Seasonal employees are more likely to steal, from their employer and from the customers. It has been said that only 10% of employees are honest, 10% of employees will always steal and 80% will steal based on circumstances. So always count your change.

Credit Card Skimming: When a salesperson or waiter takes your credit card, they can run it through a card reader device that will copy the information stored on the magnetic strip. So when you hand over your card, watch closely to see where it is taken and what is done with it. It’s normal for the card to be swiped through a point of sale terminal or keyboard card reader. But if you happen to see your card being swiped through an additional reader that doesn’t coincide with the transaction, your card number may have been stolen.

Debit Card Skimming: Without the associate PIN, a skimmed debit card number is difficult to turn into cash. With the help of a hidden camera or a “shoulder surfer,” though, your PIN could be recorded at an ATM or point of sale terminal. Cover the keypad while you’re entering your PIN.

Pickpockets: Pickpockets slink through society, undetected and undeterred. They are subtle and brazen at the same time. They are like bed bugs, crawling on you and injecting numbing venom that prevents you from detecting their bite until it’s much too late.

Be aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded places. Pickpockets use distractions like bumps, commotions, and aggressive people. Sometimes a person will fall down, drop something, or appear to be ill.

Consider subscribing to McAfee Identity Protection, a service that offers proactive identity surveillance, lost wallet protection, and alerts when suspicious activity is detected on your accounts. For additional tips, please visit

Robert Siciliano is a McAfee consultant and identity theft expert. See him discuss Black Friday on The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet. (Disclosures)