FBI Warning: ‘Tis the Season for Holiday Scams
During the holidays, scammers focus less on giving and more on stealing. Shoppers looking for a good deal this holiday season should be aware of increasingly aggressive and unorthodox scams designed by criminals to steal money and personal information. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), in 2019 people living in the greater Erie area lost more than $170,000 due to a variety of scams. The number of victims reporting losses so far this year has doubled from last year. FBI Pittsburgh wants local shoppers to enjoy a scam-free holiday season by remaining vigilant against the following schemes.
Online Shopping Scams: If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is! Steer clear of unfamiliar sites offering unrealistic discounts on brand-name merchandise. Scammers frequently prey on Black Friday and Cyber Monday bargain hunters by advertising “One-Day Only” promotions from recognized brands. Without a skeptical eye, consumers may end up paying for an item, giving away personal information, and receive nothing in return except a compromised identity.
Payment Red Flags: Be cautious of sellers and websites that demand payment solely through gift cards. Scammers sometimes encourage shoppers to conduct wire transfers, allowing criminals to quickly receive illicit funds. Credit cards provide several layers of security against fraud and are typically the safest way to conduct online shopping.
Charity Scams: Charity-related frauds increase during the holidays as individuals seek to donate money to those less fortunate. Criminals use phone calls, email campaigns, and fake websites to solicit on behalf of fraudulent charities. Scammers target people who want to donate to charity, then hoard their well-intentioned donations while those most in need never see a dime.
Steps to avoid holiday fraud schemes:
- Before shopping online, secure all financial accounts with strong passwords or passphrases. Additionally, the FBI recommends using different passwords for each financial account.
- Check bank and credit card statements routinely, including after making online purchases and in the weeks following the holiday season.
- Never give personal information— such as your date of birth, Social Security number, or billing addresses— to anyone you do not know.
- Be wary of promotions and giveaways that request your personal information.
- Prior to donating to any charity, verify that they have a valid Taxpayer Identification number by visiting their website or calling the charity directly.
Reporting fraud: Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia shoppers who suspect they’ve been victimized should immediately contact their financial institution, then call their local law enforcement agency or FBI Pittsburgh at (412) 432-4000. Victims of holiday scams are also encouraged to file a complaint with the FBI at www.ic3.gov.
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