Looking To Do Some Black Friday Shopping? Here’s Some Tips for Avoiding Scams

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

person holding a phone on Black Friday
Photo by CardMapr.nl on Unsplash

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are approaching again, and as always this holiday season is a scammer’s favorite time of year.

Spending on Black Friday was up nearly 30% in 2021 from the prior year, both in-store and online (though e-commerce saw a smaller jump, up about 11%), according to ABC News. And although this past year has been marked by rising costs of nearly everything from food to fuel, shoppers surveyed by PwC indicated they plan to spend about the same amount as last year, with Millennials leading the charge.

On average, people seem to be willing to spend a bit more expect to spend around $1,430 this holiday season, only slightly lower than last year. 57% of people surveyed reported to PwC they plan to do all their shopping online. As with any time of year, a reliance on digital payments or platforms over in-store cash buys comes with the added risk of scams, phishing or deceitful marketing.

With that in mind, dot.LA is here to help you navigate through these digital forums this year with some helpful tips to avoid being scammed.

Buy Now, Pay Later Platforms

two people shaking handstwo people shaking handsPhoto by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

It’s worth briefly discussing the rise of buy now, pay later (BNPL) tech platforms like Affirm, Klarna or AfterPay that are increasing in popularity with their promises to help lower-income shoppers finance purchases over time.

Typically, a merchant will ink a contract with one of these tech companies to offer their payment option at checkout. The premise is simple – split a larger bill into even installments, usually four payments spread out over several months, to allow customers more time to pay off their bill. It’s better than a line of credit, since it doesn’t require a credit check and most of these sites don’t charge extra fees or interest. An August survey by Consumer Reports found that 28% of Americans paid using BNPL, up from 18% in January.

But sometimes the affordable trade-off comes with a hidden price. Sometimes these are literally hidden fees, buried in the company’s loan terms; so be sure that if you set up auto-pay you have adequate funds, otherwise you may be on the hook for up to $10 per missed payment.

Unlike the seller, BNPL app or even the deliverer, there’s usually no insurance for buyers. Some have reported being on the hook for payments even after their item failed to be delivered. Right now, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau doesn’t give buyers legal recourse if their items aren’t delivered or need to dispute billing issues, but changing that would provide customers more recourse if they’re on the hook for missing merchandise.

The biggest way to avoid BNPL issues is to buy outright. But if that isn’t an option, experts recommend you keep a detailed log of when payments are due, and avoid overextending on loans to steer clear of being sent to collections. Once you’re locked into a payment plan, you can’t change it. So be wary if some big withdrawals are coming through on rent day. And, like with any merchant, if they offer BNPL through a non-recognizable third party, simply pay another way.

Blocked and Reported

Gmail appblack laptop computerPhoto by Stephen Phillips - Hostreviews.co.uk on Unsplash

Identity theft attempts tend to spike during the holidays, so be wary of anyone trying to suss out personal information through social media.

TikTok’s support page notes it will never ask users for their account details. Snapchat also encourages users to never give out their personal information.

If you’re a user of either app and see messages asking for personal details, immediately report them to the app for review. Blocking the user can’t hurt either. To further limit the likelihood of scammers sliding into your DMs, Snapchat recommends users only friend people they know in real life. This is harder on TikTok; most users don’t know the people they follow personally, so on that app it’s prudent to be extra wary of new connections.

Two-Factor Authentication

two-factor authentication scam


Photo by Ed Hardie on Unsplash

Definitely turn this setting on across all accounts. Two-factor authentication (2FA) is one safeguard against being hacked. It can be found in nearly every app’s settings; and works by sending a passcode to your phone or email that grants access to your account after inputting a password.

2FA isn’t foolproof, however. If someone hacks an account they can change the 2FA number to another one. But it’s a useful extra layer of security and many apps recommend you turn it on.

Also, when shopping online, use a private secure network if possible, and do so on a computer with an antivirus software installed. Public networks are much less likely to have safeguards to deter hackers, though if you’re forced to use one, try installing a VPN (like one of these) which can provide additional security.

Password Managers

lock on keyboard

lock on keyboard

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Another key way to avoid being hacked is to use a password manager. While it might seem risky to have all your passwords aggregated on one app, it’s also a useful way to ensure all your accounts have passwords long and random enough for even the most astute AI to take awhile to hack.

There’s a few decent paid apps out there doing this. 1Password is a good one (not sponsored, I just enjoy their interface), mainly because it can sync with an iPhone’s biometric data sensor to scan your face and auto-fill passwords on certain sites after you input your master password. To be fair, no platform is completely immune to hacks. But using a random password generator is much more secure than each password being a slight variation of the other for memory’s sake.

Avoid Phishing

Mail app on phoneblue and white logo guessing gamePhoto by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Phishing scams, or scams that bait users into clicking a fraudulent link or attachment, are all too common during the holidays. Often the target is to surreptitiously install malicious software on your device to steal data.

Be wary of any link sent to you as well. Especially if it masquerades as something useful, like a package tracking link. When ordering gifts this season, make a detailed list of the sites you bought them from and which carrier the site says they use when shipped, and only use this site when looking for updates. Don’t, for example, assume that a text claiming to be from UPS with a package update is real.

The same goes for advertisements. On TikTok in particular fake ads are all the rage and it’s too easy to click something that looks interesting without thinking. To be extra certain you’re avoiding phishing through ads, if you see an intriguing product on social media, simply go to the brand’s website and buy there, instead of being routed through the link.

Another red flag to be aware of is if a merchant requests alternative payments like cryptocurrency, a wire transfer or gift cards – this is almost a sure sign they’re conducting illegal business and looking to obfuscate their activity.

Also, as with any type of malfeasance, the old adage of “see something, say something” applies to online scamming.


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Here’s Why Streaming Looks More and More Like Cable

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
Here’s Why Streaming Looks More and More Like Cable
Evan Xie

The original dream of streaming was all of the content you love, easily accessible on your TV or computer at any time, at a reasonable price. Sadly, Hollywood and Silicon Valley have come together over the last decade or so to recognize that this isn’t really economically viable. Instead, the streaming marketplace is slowly transforming into something approximating Cable Television But Online.

It’s very expensive to make the kinds of shows that generate the kind of enthusiasm and excitement from global audiences that drives the growth of streaming platforms. For every international hit like “Squid Game” or “Money Heist,” Netflix produced dozens of other shows whose titles you have definitely forgotten about.

The marketplace for new TV has become so massively competitive, and the streaming landscape so oversaturated, even relatively popular shows with passionate fanbases that generate real enthusiasm and acclaim from critics often struggle to survive. Disney+ canceled Luscasfilm’s “Willow” after just one season this week, despite being based on a hit Ron Howard film and receiving an 83% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes. Amazon dropped the mystery drama “Three Pines” after one season as well this week, which starred Alfred Molina, also received positive reviews, and is based on a popular series of detective novels.

Even the new season of “The Mandalorian” is off to a sluggish start compared to its previous two Disney+ seasons, and Pedro Pascal is basically the most popular person in America right now.

Now that major players like Netflix, Disney+, and WB Discovery’s HBO Max have entered most of the big international markets, and bombarded consumers there with marketing and promotional efforts, onboarding of new subscribers inevitably has slowed. Combine that with inflation and other economic concerns, and you have a recipe for austerity and belt-tightening among the big streamers that’s virtually guaranteed to turn the smorgasbord of Peak TV into a more conservative a la carte offering. Lots of stuff you like, sure, but in smaller portions.

While Netflix once made its famed billion-dollar mega-deals with top-name creators, now it balks when writer/director Nancy Meyers (“It’s Complicated,” “The Holiday”) asks for $150 million to pay her cast of A-list actors. Her latest romantic comedy will likely move over to Warner Bros., which can open the film in theaters and hopefully recoup Scarlett Johansson and Michael Fassbender’s salaries rather than just spending the money and hoping it lingers longer in the public consciousness than “The Gray Man.”

CNET did the math last month and determined that it’s still cheaper to choose a few subscription streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime over a conventional cable TV package by an average of about $30 per month (provided you don’t include the cost of internet service itself). But that means picking and choosing your favorite platforms, as once you start adding all the major offerings out there, the prices add up quickly. (And those are just the biggest services from major Hollywood studios and media companies, let alone smaller, more specialized offerings.) Any kind of cable replacement or live TV streaming platform makes the cost essentially comparable to an old-school cable TV package, around $100 a month or more.

So called FAST, or Free Ad-supported Streaming TV services, have become a popular alternative to paid streaming platforms, with Fox’s Tubi making its first-ever appearance on Nielsen’s monthly platform rankings just last month. (It’s now more popular than the first FAST service to appear on the chart, Paramount Global’s Pluto TV.) According to Nielsen, Tubi now accounts for around 1% of all TV viewing in the US, and its model of 24/7 themed channels supported by semi-frequent ad breaks couldn’t resemble cable television anymore if it tried.

Services like Tubi and Pluto stand to benefit significantly from the new streaming paradigm, and not just from fatigued consumers tired of paying for more content. Cast-off shows and films from bigger streamers like HBO Max often find their way to ad-supported platforms, where they can start bringing in revenue for their original studios and producers. The infamous HBO Max shows like “The Nevers” and “Westworld” that WBD controversially pulled from the HBO Max service can now be found on Tubi or The Roku Channel.

HBO Max’s recently-canceled reality dating series “FBoy Island” has also found a new home, but it’s not on any streaming platform. Season 3 will air on TV’s The CW, along with a new spinoff series called (wait for it) “FGirl Island.” So in at least some ways, “30 Rock” was right: technology really IS cyclical.

As TikTok Faces a Ban, Competitors Prepare to Woo Its User Base

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

As TikTok Faces a Ban, Competitors Prepare to Woo Its User Base
Evan Xie

This is the web version of dot.LA’s daily newsletter. Sign up to get the latest news on Southern California’s tech, startup and venture capital scene.

Another day, another update in the unending saga that is the potential TikTok ban.

The latest: separate from the various bills proposing a ban, the Biden administration has been in talks with TikTok since September to try and find a solution. Now, having thrown its support behind Senator MarkWarner’s bill, the White House is demanding TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, sell its stakes in the company to avoid a ban. This would be a major blow to the business, as TikTok alone is worth between $40 billion and $50 billion—a significant portion of ByteDance’s $220 billion value.

Clearly, TikTok faces an uphill battle as its CEO Shou Zi Chew prepares to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee next week. But other social media companies are likely looking forward to seeing their primary competitor go—and are positioning themselves as the best replacement for migrating users.


Last year, The Washington Post reported that Meta paid a consulting firm to plant negative stories about TikTok. Now, Meta is reaping the benefits of TikTok’s downfall, with its shares rising 3% after the White House told TikTok to leave ByteDance. But this initial boost means nothing if the company can’t entice creators and viewers to Instagram and Facebook. And it doesn’t look promising in that regard.

Having waffled between pushing its short-form videos, called Reels, and de-prioritizing them in the algorithm, Instagram announced last week that it would no longer offer monetary bonuses to creators making Reels. This might be because of TikTok’s imminent ban. After all, the program was initially meant to convince TikTok creators to use Instagram—an issue that won’t be as pressing if TikTok users have no choice but to find another platform.


Alternatively, Snap is doing the opposite and luring creators with an ad revenue-sharing program. First launched in 2022, creators are now actively boasting about big earnings from the program, which provides 50% of ad revenue from videos. Snapchat is clearly still trying to win over users with new tech like its OpenAI chatbot, which it launched last month. But it's best bet to woo the TikTok crowd is through its new Sounds features, which suggest audio for different lenses and will match montage videos to a song’s rhythm. Audio clips are crucial to TikTok’s platform, so focusing on integrating songs into content will likely appeal to users looking to recreate that experience.


With its short-form ad revenue-sharing program, YouTube Shorts has already lured over TikTok creators. It's even gotten major stars like Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift to promote music on Shorts. This is likely where YouTube has the best bet of taking TikTok’s audience. Since TikTok has become deeply intertwined with the music industry, Shorts might be primed to take its spot. And with its new feature that creates compiles all the videos using a specific song, Shorts is likely hoping to capture musicians looking to promote their work.


The most blatant attempt at seducing TikTok users, however, comes from Triller, which launched a portal for people to move their videos from TikTok to its platform. It’s simple, but likely the most effective tactic—and one that other short-form video platforms should try to replicate. With TikTok users worried about losing their backlog of content, this not only lets users archive but also bolsters Triller’s content offerings. The problem, of course, is that Triller isn’t nearly as well known as the other platforms also trying to capture TikTok users. Still, those who are in the know will likely find this option easier than manually re-uploading content to other sites.

It's likely that many of these platforms will see a momentary boost if the TikTok ban goes through. But all of these companies need to ensure that users coming from TikTok actually stay on their platforms. Considering that they have already been upended by one newcomer when TikTok took over, there’s good reason to believe that a new app could come in and swoop up TikTok’s user base. As of right now, it's unclear who will come out on top. But the true loser is the user who has to adhere to the everyday whims of each of these platforms.


We Asked Our Readers How They’re Using AI in a Professional Setting. Here's What They Said

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

We Asked Our Readers How They’re Using AI in a Professional Setting. Here's What They Said
Evan Xie

According to Pew Research data, 27% of Americans interact with AI on a daily basis. With the launch of Open AI’s latest language model GPT-4, we asked our readers how they use AI in a professional capacity. Here’s what they told us:

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