Ask the Geek: ’Tis the season


Dear Geek,

I’ve been getting overloaded this holiday season with odd emails that I’m paranoid about opening. Can I really get a laptop for $20, or free gift cards for being a secret shopper? Also, in our household, Santa and Hanukkah Harry seem to be using Amazon, but my kids can see the orders that Santa and Harry have been nice enough to place. I’d like to advise them about this ruining the surprise — is there anything they can do to cover his tracks a bit better?

Saint Martha

Hi Martha,

Thanks for writing in with this timely email that is sure to help our readers. Seems like we are both on similar email distribution lists. Nearly all of the emails touting these crazy deals and claims are scams. These scams are trying to get you to click a link to bring you to a website that will infect your computer with malicious software and scour your computer for stored data. Equally as bad, this software might try to record your online shopping activity, complete with credit card information. Little of what I just mentioned is likely new information to all of you reading, so how are these scams ever successful?

The emails we receive appear legit. They will have logos and links to sites that look nearly identical to the websites where we shop. Looking in the address bar will be a tipoff. For an eBay link, the address bar might show “www.ebayshopp” or something like that, instead of “” If it does, it’s fraudulent. We are typically making a large number of purchases online, and an email stating a payment or shipping issue referring to a familiar website will sometimes be enough to make us click a link without thinking it through.

Emails touting iPhones for $20 or “be a secret online shopper” are scams, no doubt. IOn the off chance a website is legitimately looking for someone to evaluate the shopping experience and you happen to miss out, blame me; I can handle it. More likely 100 out of 100 of these emails are just trying to entice you into giving them enough data to apply for credit cards or bank transfers by using your information.

If you are online shopping while on the go, do not shop while connected to a public Wi-Fi. Who knows what could be happening on that network? It’s best to consider them unsafe for use regarding shopping or conducting business where personal information could be transmitted.

Less nefarious, though, is how online shopping history can come back to ruin a surprise. Like you mentioned, Santa and Hanukkah Harry must have done a lot of shopping on Amazon, as reports were that half of online Black Friday purchases were made through Amazon. If someone who made the good list happens to look at Amazon while the account is still logged in, the order history will be quite prominent. Hiding those orders is easy, though. Just go into one of your past orders and you’ll see a button that will allow you to archive the order. That hides it from your order history, but you can still pull it back up if needed. I’m not endorsing buying everything online, as Island business depend on our support. Buy local whenever you can, whenever possible. The reality is there is a need for online shopping, but please don’t forget about our local businesses!

Let’s make it a safe online holiday season this year. Always remember, if something doesn’t seem quite right, don’t click on it. Verify its legitimacy using your eyeball test, or ask someone else if it sounds fishy. If in doubt, you can also directly reach out to the company claiming to contact you. Not from a phone number in an email, from the company’s actual website. Be careful with your personal information — this is a huge season for scammers, and unfortunately many of them will be successful.

Enjoy the start to the holiday season!

The Geek

Adam Darack is the IT administrator for the town of Edgartown. He writes regularly about the technological issues facing Island business owners. Got a question? Send it to with the subject line “Dear Geek.”