FBI Warning: ‘Tis the Season for Holiday Scams
If you’re shopping online this holiday season, be on the lookout for scammers trying to steal a deal, too. Scammers are often aggressive and creative in their efforts. They use unorthodox scams to steal your money and personal information. Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is!
The two most prevalent of these holiday scams are non-delivery and non-payment crimes. In a non-delivery scam, a buyer pays for goods or services they find online, but those items are never received. Conversely, a non-payment scam involves goods or services being shipped, but the seller is never paid. Nationally, for non-payment/non-delivery scams, IC3 received more than 44,220 complaints with losses over $276 million for the period through October 2022.
Locally according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), in 2021 more than 600 victims living in Western PA lost $848,571 in these types of crimes. So far in 2022, more than 400 victims lost $936,997. In West Virginia, nearly 400 victims lost $952,579 in 2021. So far this year, more than 200 victims have lost $736,374 across the state.
“Make sure you do your homework when you’re shopping this year,” said FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Mike Nordwall. “In general, the types of scams we see do not change significantly. However, the techniques the scammers use and the methods of deploying these scams do change. By following a few simple tips and remaining vigilant, you can protect your information, your hard-earned money and enjoy a scam-free holiday season.”
Other Common Scams Online Shopping Scams:
- Scammers often offer too-good-to-be-true deals via phishing emails 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.
- 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 e-mail, 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.
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.
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, e-mail, 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 e-mail 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 e-mails.
- Do not click on links contained within an unsolicited e-mail 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.
- Avoid filling out forms contained in e-mail 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.
- 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 passphrases. 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).
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. You can also visit: https://www.fbi.gov/how-we-can-help-you/safety-resources/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/holiday-scams