When shopping online during the holiday season—or any time of year—always be wary of deals that seem too good to be true. Do your part to avoid becoming a scammer’s next victim.
Every year, thousands of people become victims of holiday scams. Scammers can rob you of hard-earned money, personal information, and, at the very least, a festive mood.
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.
According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center’s (IC3) 2021 report, non-payment or non-delivery scams cost people more than $337 million. Credit card fraud accounted for another $173 million in losses.
Similar scams to beware of this time of year are auction fraud, where a product is misrepresented on an auction site, and gift card fraud, when a seller asks you to pay with a pre-paid card.
The IC3 receives a large volume of complaints in the early months of each year, suggesting a correlation with the previous holiday season’s shopping scams.
If You’ve Been Scammed
- Call your credit card company or your bank. Dispute any suspicious charges.
- Contact local law enforcement.
- Report the scam to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at ic3.gov.
Tips to Avoid Holiday Scams
Whether you’re the buyer or the seller, there are a number of ways you can protect yourself—and your wallet.
Practice good cybersecurity hygiene.
- Don’t click any suspicious links or attachments in emails, on websites, or on social media. Phishing scams and similar crimes get you to click on links and give up personal information like your name, password, and bank account number. In some cases, you may unknowingly download malware to your device.
- Be especially wary if a company asks you to update your password or account information. Look up the company’s phone number on your own and call the company.
Know who you’re buying from or selling to.
- Check each website’s URL to make sure it’s legitimate and secure. A site you’re buying from should have https in the web address. If it doesn’t, don’t enter your information on that site.
- If you’re purchasing from a company for the first time, do your research and check reviews.
- Verify the legitimacy of a buyer or seller before moving forward with a purchase. If you’re using an online marketplace or auction website, check their feedback rating. Be wary of buyers and sellers with mostly unfavorable feedback ratings or no ratings at all.
- Avoid sellers who act as authorized dealers or factory representatives of popular items in countries where there would be no such deals.
- Be wary of sellers who post an auction or advertisement as if they reside in the U.S., then respond to questions by stating they are out of the country on business, family emergency, or similar reasons.
- Avoid buyers who request their purchase be shipped using a certain method to avoid customs or taxes inside another country.
Be careful how you pay.
- Never wire money directly to a seller.
- Avoid paying for items with pre-paid gift cards. In these scams, a seller will ask you to send them a gift card number and PIN. Instead of using that gift card for your payment, the scammer will steal the funds, and you’ll never receive your item.
- Use a credit card when shopping online and check your statement regularly. If you see a suspicious transaction, contact your credit card company to dispute the charge.
Monitor the shipping process.
- Always get tracking numbers for items you buy online, so you can make sure they have been shipped and can follow the delivery process.
- Be suspect of any credit card purchases where the address of the cardholder does not match the shipping address when you are selling. Always receive the cardholder’s authorization before shipping any products.
And remember: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
On this episode of Inside the FBI, we discuss holiday shopping scams and how you can shop safely and smartly online.