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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This Year’s Techstars’ Demo Day Included Robot Bartenders and Towable Rockets

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.

This Year’s Techstars’ Demo Day Included Robot Bartenders and Towable Rockets
Andria Moore

On Wednesday, Techstars’ fall 2022 class gathered in Downtown Los Angeles to pitch their products to potential investors in hopes of securing their next big funding round. dot.LA co-sponsored the demo day presentation alongside Venice-based space news website Payload.

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Derek Jeter’s Arena Club Knocked a $10M Funding Round Right Out of the Park

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.

sports trading cards
Arena Club /Andria Moore

Sports trading card platform Arena Club has raised $10 million in Series A funding.

Co-founded by CEO Brian Lee and Hall of Fame Yankees player Derek Jeter, Arena Club launched its digital showroom in September. Through the platform, sports fans can buy, sell, trade and display their card collections. Using computer vision and machine learning, Arena Club allows fans to grade and authenticate their cards, which can be stored in the company’s vault or delivered in protective “slabs.” Arena Club intends to use the new cash to expand these functions and scale its operations.

The new funding brings Arena Club’s total amount raised to $20 million. M13, defy.vc, Lightspeed Ventures, Elysian Park Ventures and BAM Ventures contributed to the round.

“Our team is thankful for the group of investors—led by M13, who see the bright future of the trading card hobby and our platform,” Lee said in a statement. “I have long admired M13 and the value they bring to early-stage startups.”

M13’s co-founder Courtney Reum, who formed the early-stage consumer technology venture firm in 2016 alongside his brother Carter Reum, will join Arena Club’s board. Reum has been eyeing the trading card space since 2020 when he began investing in what was once just a childhood hobby.

The sports trading card market surged in 2020 as fans turned to the hobby after the pandemic brought live events to a standstill. Since then, prices have come down, though demand remains high. And investors are still betting on trading card companies, with companies like Collectors bringing in $100 million earlier this year. Fanatics, which sells athletic collectibles and trading cards, reached a $31 billion valuation after raising $700 million earlier this week. On the blockchain, Tom Brady’s NFT company Autograph lets athletes sell digital collectibles directly to fans.

As for Arena Club, the company is looking to cement itself as a digital card show.

“Providing users with a digital card show allows us to use our first-class technology to give collectors from all over the world the luxury of being able to get the full trading card show experience at their fingertips,” Jeter said in a statement.

Airbnb Is Expanding Short-Term Rentals in LA, but Hosts Likely Still Won’t Profit

Amrita Khalid
Amrita Khalid is a tech journalist based in Los Angeles, and has written for Quartz, The Daily Dot, Engadget, Inc. Magazine and number of other publications. She got her start in Washington, D.C., covering Congress for CQ-Roll Call. You can send tips or pitches to amrita@dot.la or reach out to her on Twitter at @askhalid.
LA house

L.A.’s lax enforcement of Airbnbs has led to an surge of illegal short-term rentals — even four years after the city passed a regulation to crack down on such practices. But what if hosts lived in a building that welcomed Airbnb guests and short-term rentals?

That’s the idea behind Airbnb’s new push to expand short-term rental offerings. The company is partnering with a number of corporate landlords that agreed to offer “Airbnb-friendly” apartment buildings, reported The Wall Street Journal last week. According to the report, the new service will feature more than 175 buildings managed by Equity Residential, Greystar Real Estate Partners LLC and 10 other companies that have agreed to clear more than 175 properties nationwide for short-term rentals.

But prospective hosts in Los Angeles who decide to rent apartments from Airbnb’s list of more than a dozen “friendly” buildings in the city likely won’t earn enough to break even due to a combination of high rents, taxes and city restrictions on short-term rentals. Rents on one-bedroom apartments in most of the partnered buildings listed soared well over $3,000 a month. Only a few studios were available under the $2,000 price range. If a host were to rent a one bedroom apartment with a monthly rent of $2,635 (which amounts to $31,656 annually), they would have to charge well over the $194 average price per night for Los Angeles (which amounts to $23,280 per year) according to analytics platform AllTheRooms.

Either way, residents who rent one of these Airbnb friendly apartments still have to apply for a permit through the City of Los Angeles in order to host on Airbnb.

“[..Airbnb-friendly buildings] seems like a good initiative. However, from a quick look, it seems that given the rent, Airbnb revenue wouldn’t be enough to cover all expenses if the host follows the city’s policy,” says Davide Proserpio, assistant professor of marketing at the USC Marshall School of Business.

In addition, since L.A.’s 120-day cap on short-term rentals still applies to the buildings on Airbnb’s listing platform, that greatly limits the number of longer-term guests a resident can host. Not to mention, some of the buildings that Airbnb lists have even shorter limits – The Milano Lofts in DTLA for example only allows residents to host 90 nights a year.

Airbnb’s calculations of host earnings may be greatly misleading as well, given that the estimate doesn’t include host expenses, taxes, cleaning fees or individual building restrictions. For example, Airbnb estimates that a resident of a $3,699 one bedroom apartment at the Vinz in Hollywood that hosts 7 nights a month can expect $1,108 a month in revenue if they host year-round. But the Vinz only allows hosts to rent 90 days a year, which greatly limits the potential for subletters and a consistent income stream.

Keep in mind too that since the apartment will have to serve as the host’s “primary residence”, hosts will have to live there six months out of the year. All of which is to say, it’s unclear how renting an apartment in an “Airbnb-friendly” building makes hosting easier — especially in a city where illegal short-term rentals already seem to be the norm.