FBI El Paso Warns of Not So Jolly Holiday Scams
EL PASO, TX—The Better Business Bureau advised Cyber Monday is forecasted to outperform Black Friday with revenues forecasted to exceed 13 billion dollars. Of that online shopping, 73% was done on smartphones. This year, FBI El Paso wants local shoppers to enjoy a scam-free holiday season by remaining vigilant against holiday scams.
“As you shop online during this holiday season, be careful about the smaller cyber scams run by individuals or groups looking to take your money during a time when all you want to do is provide the perfect gift for your family. The best thing you can do to be a savvy shopper is to know what scams are out there and take some basic precautions,” said John Morales, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI El Paso Field Office.
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. Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is!
Online Shopping Scams
- Scammers often offer too-good-to-be-true deals via phishing emails, texts, 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 (most victims reported):
- 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.
- 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
- 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 email, a spoofed phone call, or a spoofed text from a person in authority requesting 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.
- Fraudulent charity scams, in which perpetrators set up false charities and profit from individuals who believe they are making donations to legitimate charitable organizations. Charity fraud 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.
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.
- 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. It is important to check statements after the holiday season, as many fraudulent charges can show up even several weeks later.
- Be cautious of emails claiming to contain pictures in attached files, as the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.
- Verify requests for personal information from any business or financial institution by contacting them using the main contact information on their official website.
- 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).
What to Do if You Are a Victim
If you are a victim of an online scam, the FBI recommends taking the following actions:
- 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.
- Report the activity to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at IC3.gov, regardless of dollar loss. Provide all relevant information in the complaint.
- For additional information and consumer alerts, and to report scams to the FBI, visit IC3.gov.