Julio Rivera: Look Out for Cyber Scammers and Ad-Pollution While Shopping Online This Holiday Season

Despite all the traps that exist online, this year’s holiday shopping experience on the internet doesn’t have to be a dangerous endeavor.

Look Out for Cyber Scammers and Ad-Pollution While Shopping Online This Holiday Season

This holiday season, many people will be checking off their shopping list via the internet. With Online retail giants like Amazon, Walmart, and Apple, growing their market shares as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, e-commerce now represents a staggering 21% of global retail sales as of 2022, with 2.14 billion people shopping online in 2020, and e-commerce transactions reaching $4.9 trillion in 2021. Although shopping online is convenient, there are still drawbacks to these transactions.

One danger are websites that look identical to reputable online retailers where consumers regularly purchase goods. These sites may be difficult to some web surfers to identify, but a slight misspelling in the name of the site usually gives it away, so be wary of the URLs you are visiting.

You can also investigate the legitimacy of a website is by checking how long the domain has been registered by entering it on whois.icann.org. Most scam sites are newly published and only stay active through the holidays, which is long enough for them to take advantage of consumers and rake in serious cash.

Random texts and emails from unknown sources offering deals on products and services may also be a danger you encounter this holiday shopping season. Although the majority the messages you receive this season may be perfectly safe, in some cases, they could be part of a phishing scheme. Should you take the bait, you may find yourself exposing your online payment data to hackers that can quickly run up charges on your credit card account.

You may also encounter advertisements that automatically display in new tabs or windows that randomly pop-up on your screen. These behaviors are consistent with adware, like the kind that spams customers with unsolicited advertisements and are associated with less than reputable websites.

Another drawback to online shopping is the fact that Big-Tech behemoths like Google, Microsoft and Facebook are working with ad networks that at times, engage in behaviors that mislead consumers. These behaviors may include showing consumers ads in ways that are hard to distinguish from the website’s content. This can lead to unintended clicks. For older or less savvy web surfers, some of whom may be living on a fixed income, these kinds of ads can lead to unwanted downloads and purchases.

For Instance, can you tell which buttons are ads or website actions in the below pictures:

Image showing How Online Advertisements Can Contain Multiple Clickable Fields that are Confusing to Consumers.
Image Showing How Online Quizzes can be Particularly Difficult to Navigate.

As a result of these dubious advertising practices, consumer protection groups have begun to call out this kind of behavior. AppEsteem, a well-respected group within the software application industry, has created an online list of nine Ad Pollution Indicators that define these nefarious advertising practices and are calling out over thirty ad networks, including Google, Microsoft, and Facebook.

AppEsteem, which has a goal to “Clean the Internet, One App at a Time,” is looking out for the best interests of consumers by fighting the “bad guys” so they don’t have to, and so web surfers can download and use apps without fear. They also work with app developers by providing clear app rules which are reviewed by cybersecurity companies so safe apps can prosper, and so called “deceptor apps” that attempt to take advantage of consumers, don’t.

According to AppEsteem’s President, Dennis Batchelder, “The Big-Tech giants are completely aware of how their misleading ads can be detrimental to consumers, but they engage in these practices. They pollute the web browsing experience, and we want them to stop.”

AppEsteem has begun a pressure campaign against Big-Tech and their questionable advertising practices and are assembling an industry-wide coalition to stand up on behalf of consumers. Additionally, they are developing software that will protect consumers against ad-pollution.

Despite all the traps that exist online, this year’s holiday shopping experience on the internet doesn’t have to be a dangerous endeavor. You just have to always be mindful of some basic rules of engagement, and then you can enjoy a holiday season free of being victimized by online fraud.


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Julio Rivera

Julio Rivera is a small business consultant, political activist, writer and Editorial Director for Reactionary Times.  His writing, which is concentrated on politics and cybersecurity, has also been published by websites including Newsmax, The Hill, The Washington Times, LifeZette, The Washington Examiner, American Thinker, The Toronto Sun, PJ Media and many others.

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