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by Mike Masterson | November 28, 2021 at 1:41 a.m.

We'd better watch out lest we be pouting over grifters this Christmas season.

As the nation's supply chain continues to suffer, we can expect online shopping scams to flourish, says the website Social Catfish. The site says consumers likely will spend a record $207 billion on online shopping while also at risk for scams ranging from phony websites, Instagram giveaways and Secret Santa schemes.

According to data from the Federal Trade Commission and the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center, Arkansas lost $17 million to scammers last year; nationally, a record $4.2 billion was stolen.

Arkansas is ranked as the 37th most at-risk state for online fraud, and online shopping has been the most common scam reported by Arkansans related to the pandemic.

A number of times I ordered merchandise online that never arrived. Those vanishing acts taught me how foolish I'd been to respond to a social media ad that could be placed by any con man.

The folks at Social Catfish warn of five cons to avoid this holiday shopping season:

The missing package scam capitalizes on supply-chain delays. Scammers pretend to be FedEx and send an email or text with a link to supposedly track one's package. "When clicked on, these malicious links steal your personal and financial information," says the site. Avoid this by never clicking on a link or calling a number from an unexpected delivery notice; instead, contact the company directly using verified contact information.

There's also the Social Media Secret Santa, a Facebook pyramid scheme officially called "Secret Sister." "Scammers recruit 'sisters' with the promise that if they buy a $10 gift for another member, they will receive 36 gifts in return. A version of this scam includes exchanging bottles of wine," the site says. Avoid this by not responding to communications from "Secret Sister" or join an exchange "for the good of the sisterhood."

Beware of phony retailers and websites that promote extraordinary sales on gifts out of stock everywhere else. According to the site, "Fake sites have a domain name with an extraneous letter or number, grammatical errors, and limited contact information." These can be avoided with a modicum of research about the company and reading customer reviews, as well as Googling the company name and "scam."

Then there's the holiday charity gift scam where people may donate to charity on a person's behalf. "This increased during covid-19 and ramps up every year during the season of giving. Scammers pose as a fake charity to solicit fraudulent donations. Often, they pick a name that sounds close to a well-known charity," says SocialCatfish. Before making donations, check out charities on BBB Wise Giving Alliance or Charity Navigator.

Finally, beware of fake Instagram giveaways where brands and influencers offer giveaways. Scammers, the site says, use "a technique called 'like-farming,' where they ask you to like or comment on their post for a chance to win a holiday prize. They include malicious links and steal your personal information." Avoid by watching for the blue checkmark social media platforms use to signify real pages, and looking for typographical errors and accounts with limited content.

Walmart in skies

After enjoying countless frustrating trips to Walmart, I was relieved to see teams from that behemoth have started delivery by drone in northwest Arkansas.

The maiden launch in Pea Ridge will make make on-demand deliveries of select health and wellness and consumable items from the local Walmart Neighborhood Market a space-age reality.

"Zipline's autonomous aircraft present an incredible opportunity to offer customers an on-demand delivery option for the items they need now, such as a thermometer, non-prescription medication or an emergency pack of diapers," said Tom Ward, senior vice president of Walmart's Last Mile Delivery. "Even more, Zipline's aircraft can help provide immediate access to needed items for both hard-to-reach and at-risk populations, such as rural communities and elderly customers."

Walmart and Zipline since last year have been building a first-of-its kind, 25-foot platform for takeoff and landing of delivery drones. The platform, directly behind the Pea Ridge Neighborhood Market, houses several of Zipline's proprietary autonomous aircraft and its flight operations crew, a press release reported. At full capacity, the aircraft can service a 50-mile radius, about the size of Connecticut.

Eligible customers can open the Zipline App and order products and their preferred delivery time. At that point a Walmart associate will collect and package the product, then provide it to a Zipline staffer who readies the aircraft for launching. The product is dropped off at the customer's home and the drone returns to the launch platform. Sounds lots easier to me than at least 10 minutes checking out my own basket of purchases.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at

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