FBI Portland
Beth Anne Steele
(503) 460-8099
December 8, 2020

Oregon FBI Tech Tuesday: Building a Digital Defense When Shopping Online

Welcome to the Oregon FBI’s Tech Tuesday segment. This week: building a digital defense against holiday shopping fraud online.

This time of year, there are many bad actors who are ready to take your money and leave you with a lump of coal in place of that perfect present.

There are all kinds of shopping scams, but we will start by talking about frauds involving online buying and selling platforms. These platforms range from being hyper local to national. All of them allow you to buy items, and many let you sell items. The traditional transaction has the seller and buyer meeting in person to do the deal… or the buyer sending payment and the seller shipping the product.

There are the local deals where you plan to meet the person to exchange money for goods. These can be physically dangerous if the other person intends to rip and run.

There’s also what I call the jackpot scam. You locate a hard-to-find electronic or luxury item on a website at a really low price. Jackpot! That special someone in your life is going to get a great gift. If you are lucky enough that a box actually shows up at your door, there’s a good chance that you just bought a bunch of junk.

Fraudsters are also using social media to advertise fake online stores. They look high-end with great websites, but the website and the scammer tend to disappear pretty quickly after hooking enough people.

So how do you protect yourself from all of these kinds of scams?

  • Be wary if someone requires you to pay by purchasing and transferring gift cards to them, by using virtual currency, or by using wire transfers. All are huge red flags.
  • Make your purchases using a secure portal—look for the lock symbol and HTTPS (with the “s” at the end)—in the website’s address. That’s not a guarantee of safety, but it is a safer bet. Also consider using a credit card that has good consumer fraud protection benefits.
  • Watch out if the seller tries to move you away from established payment portals—like PayPal or an online platform’s secure payment system— for a “private” transaction.
  • Do check a website’s reviews before purchasing, particularly if it is one you haven’t used before.
  • Check the site’s return and refunds policy. Reputable platforms will have detailed dispute handling processes listed as well.
  • If you are doing a local meet, make sure you pick a very public place such as a police station parking lot during the day. Don’t pre-pay. Do make arrangements to pay through a bank-backed electronic system that has consumer protections.
  • Finally—as always—if the deal sounds too good to be true, it likely is.

Remember—no system is completely free from fraud, but you can take some basic steps to keep yourself safe and your stocking full this holiday season.

If you have been victimized by a cyber fraud, be sure to file a report at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or call your FBI local office.