FBI San Diego Warns of Holiday Scams
SAN DIEGO—The 2023 holiday season is officially here, and criminals are waiting to take advantage of unsuspecting shoppers. Consumers looking for a good deal this holiday season need to be aware of aggressive and deceptive scams designed by criminals to steal money and personal information.
According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), San Diegans lost more than $2.6 million to fraudsters in 2022, including more than $320,000 during the holiday season alone. This year, FBI San Diego wants shoppers and sellers to enjoy a scam-free holiday season by learning how to recognize and protect against scams.
Common scams include:
- Online Shopping Scams
- 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.
- Consumers should be vigilant when receiving items purchased from online auctions and third-party marketplaces. If an item arrives from another online merchant, it may have been purchased using a stolen credit card number, stolen rewards points, or other unlawful means, and then shipped directly to the consumer. These cases should be reported to both the marketplace where the item was purchased and to the merchant who sent it.
- Consumers should be aware of potential advanced fee schemes, in which a deposit is requested in order to reserve a vacation, cruise, at-home job, fitness equipment, spa gift, or other high-demand product.
- Puppy purchase scams are an increasingly prevalent advance-fee/online shopping scam. Fraudsters use social media or other websites to offer puppies for sale and take money but never deliver the animal. They may also ask for additional money for fictitious reasons such as veterinarian bills.
- Social Media 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.
- Consumers should not post pictures of event tickets on social media sites. Fraudsters can create a ticket using the barcode obtained from the photo and resell the ticket. Consumers should protect ticket barcodes as they would credit card numbers.
- Charity Scams
- Fraudulent charity scams are common during the holiday season. Perpetrators set up false charities and profit from individuals who believe they are making donations to legitimate charitable organizations.
- Victims are apt 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, e-mail campaigns, crowdfunding platforms—soliciting money from many people usually over the Internet—or fake social media accounts and websites. They are designed to make it easy for victims to give and feel like they’re making a difference. Perpetrators may divert some or all of the funds for their personal use, and those most in need will never see the donation.
Consumers can do the following to reduce their chances of being victimized:
- Check credit card statements routinely. If possible, set up credit card transaction auto alerts or check balances 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.
- If purchasing merchandise, ensure it is from a reputable source.
- Ensure a site is secure and reputable before providing credit card number online. Don’t trust a site just because it claims to be secure. Be cognizant of web page addresses that look similar to familiar sites but are slightly different. Ensure updated home security protocols are in place.
- Beware of purchases or services that require payment with a gift card or through quick payment transfer sites or apps.
- Beware of providing credit card information when requested through unsolicited e-mails.
- Do not respond to unsolicited e-mails.
- Do not click on links contained within an unsolicited e-mail.
- Avoid filling out forms contained in e-mail messages that ask for personal information.
- Be cautious of e-mails claiming to contain pictures in attached files, as the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders and 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 account, with strong passwords. Change passwords and check accounts routinely.
- Only donate to known and trusted charities; legitimate charities do not solicit donations via money transfer services or ask for donations via gift cards.
- Beware of organizations with copycat names similar to reputable charities; most legitimate charity websites use .org (not .com).
- Follow the Federal Trade Commission’s tips for online charity research. (https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/how-donate-wisely-and-avoid-charity-scams)
Consumers who believe they are the victim of a scam should:
- Contact their financial institution immediately upon suspecting or discovering a fraudulent transfer.
- Ask their bank to contact the financial institution where the fraudulent transfer was sent.
- Contact law enforcement.
- File a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov as quickly as possible. Provide all relevant information in the complaint.