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How to Avoid Common Holiday Scams

Consumers should steer clear of untrustworthy sites or ads offering items at unrealistic discounts or with special coupons.

If you’re online shopping this holiday season, be on the lookout for scammers trying to steal a deal, too! As you shop online, you may encounter more online shopping scams and they can take many forms. Scammers are often aggressive and creative in their efforts, and there are certain red flags and common schemes holiday shoppers can guard against this holiday season. The FBI Washington Field Office reminds shoppers to beware of scams and stay vigilant of fraudsters who may try to steal your money and personal information. Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is!

“As you shop online during this holiday season, remember that it’s also the season for holiday scammers to try to swindle you out of your hard-earned money,” said Wayne A. Jacobs, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office Criminal Division. “Scammers are creative all year long, but during the holiday shopping season they will try a variety of ways to prey on unsuspecting shoppers. The simplest tips can save you a lot of money: verify the legitimacy of websites before providing financial or personal information; if the deal from an unknown seller looks too good to be true, it probably is, so do your due diligence; and do not click on email or text message links from unknown senders. If you believe you have been the victim of a scam, please report it to the FBI at IC3.gov.”

View the latest Internet Crime Complaint Center Public Service Announcement about how holiday scammers take advantage of online shoppers: https://www.ic3.gov/Media/Y2021/PSA211124

Common Scams

Online Shopping Scams: https://ic3.gov/Media/Y2020/PSA200803

  • Scammers often offer too-good-to-be-true deals via phishing e-mails or advertisements. Such schemes may offer brand-name merchandise at extremely low prices or offer gift cards as an incentive. Other sites may offer products at a great price, but the products being sold are not the same as the products advertised.
  • Consumers should steer clear of untrustworthy sites or ads offering items at unrealistic discounts or with special coupons. The victims end up paying for an item, give away personal information and credit card details, then receive nothing in return except a compromised or stolen identity.
  • Secondary markets for airline miles, gift cards, rewards credits, and other similar products have inadvertently increased the demand for stolen information and boosted its value.

Social Media Shopping Scams

  • Consumers should beware of posts on social media sites that appear to offer vouchers or gift cards. Some may appear as holiday promotions or contests. Others may appear to be from known friends who have shared the link. Often, these scams lead consumers to participate in an online survey that is designed to steal personal information.
  • If you click an ad through a social media platform, do your due diligence to check the legitimacy of the website before providing credit card or personal information.

Work-From-Home Scams: https://ic3.gov/Media/Y2020/PSA200121 and https://www.fbi.gov/news/pressrel/press-releases/fbi-warns-of-money-mule-schemes-exploiting-the-covid-19-pandemic

  • Consumers should beware of sites and posts offering work they can do from home. These opportunities rely on convenience as a selling point, but may have fraudulent intentions. Consumers should carefully research the job posting and individuals or company offering employment.

Gift Card Scams: https://www.ic3.gov/media/2018/181024.aspx

  • During the holiday season, consumers should be careful if someone asks them to purchase gift cards for them. In these scams, the victims received either a spoofed e-mail, a spoofed phone call, or a spoofed text from a person in authority requesting that the victim purchase multiple gift cards for either personal or business reasons.
  • As an example, a victim receives a request to purchase gift cards for a work-related function or as a present for a special occasion. The gift cards are then used to facilitate the purchase of goods and services, which may or may not be legitimate. Some of these incidents are combined with additional requests for wire transfer payments, as described in classic business email compromise (BEC) scenarios.

Charity Scams: https://www.ic3.gov/Media/Y2020/PSA200320

  • Fraudulent charity scams, in which perpetrators set up false charities and profit from individuals who believe they are making donations to legitimate charitable organizations, are common after disasters, which the FBI has seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. Charity fraud also rises during the holiday season, when individuals seek to make end-of-year tax deductible gifts or are reminded of those less fortunate and wish to contribute to a good cause. Seasonal charity scams can pose greater difficulties in monitoring because of their widespread reach, limited duration, and, when done over the Internet, minimal oversight.
  • Charity scam solicitations may come through cold calls, email campaigns, crowdfunding platforms, or fake social media accounts and websites. They are designed to make it easy for victims to give money and feel like they’re making a difference. Perpetrators may divert some or all the funds for their personal use, and those most in need will never see the donations.

Smartphone App Scams

  • Some mobile apps, often disguised as games and offered for free, are designed to steal personal information. Before downloading an app from an unknown source, consumers should research the company selling it or giving it away, and look online for third-party reviews of the product.
  • Consumers should also be mindful that alternative app marketplaces available to “jailbroken” or “rooted” devices can potentially include copyright infringement, stolen content, and compromised versions of otherwise trustworthy applications.

Reshipping Scams

  • These scams involve fraudsters who use stolen credit cards to buy items—usually expensive items—online. Instead of having the items shipped to the billing address, the fraudster sends them to what’s called a “reshipper.” At the “reshipper” location, the items are repackaged and usually sent overseas. There, they can often be sold at a high price on the black market.
  • Fraudsters will convince unwitting individuals to be money mules and accept the deliveries and become the “reshipper.” That person has now become part of their criminal enterprise without knowing it. Don’t be a money mule!

Tips to Avoid Being Victimized

  • Do your homework on the retailer/website/person to ensure legitimacy.
  • Conduct a business inquiry of the online retailer on the Better Business Bureau’s website (www.bbb.org).
  • Check other websites regarding the company for reviews and complaints.
  • Check the contact details of the website on the “Contact Us” page, specifically the address, email, and phone number, to confirm whether the retailer is legitimate.
  • Be wary of online retailers offering goods at significantly discounted prices.
  • Be wary of online retailers who use a free email service instead of a company email address.
  • Don’t judge a company by their website; flashy websites can be set up and taken down quickly.
  • Beware of purchases or services that require payment with a gift card.
  • Beware of providing credit card information when requested through unsolicited emails.
  • Do not click on links contained within an unsolicited email or respond to them.
  • Check credit card statements routinely. If possible, set up credit card transaction auto alerts, or check balance after every online purchase. It is important to check statements after the holiday season, as many fraudulent charges can show up even several weeks later.
  • Avoid filling out forms contained in email messages that ask for personal information.
  • Be cautious of emails claiming to contain pictures in attached files, as the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders. Scan all attachments for viruses if possible.
  • Verify requests for personal information from any business or financial institution by contacting them using the main contact information on their official website.
  • Secure credit card accounts, even rewards accounts, with strong passwords. Change passwords and check accounts routinely.
  • Make charitable contributions directly, rather than through an intermediary, and pay via credit card or check; avoid cash donations, if possible.
  • Beware of organizations with copycat names similar to reputable charities; most legitimate charity websites use .org (NOT .com).
  • Don’t be a money mule; it’s illegal!

What to Do if You Are a Victim

If you are a victim of an online scam, the FBI recommends taking the following actions:

  • Report the activity to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov, regardless of dollar loss. Provide all relevant information in the complaint.
  • Contact your financial institution immediately upon discovering any fraudulent or suspicious activity and direct them to stop or reverse the transactions.
  • Ask your financial institution to contact the corresponding financial institution where the fraudulent or suspicious transfer was sent.

For additional information and consumer alerts, and to report scams to the FBI, visit www.IC3.gov.

Read more at FBI

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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