'Twas the holiday season, when all through the land,
online shoppers clicked quickly to get gifts in hand.
But while they were adding treats and toys to their carts,
a holiday scammer was practicing his art.
“Free gift cards! Free presents! Just follow this link!”
He hoped hurried shoppers would not stop and think.
But one savvy shopper saw the email and knew:
“This is a scam! It’s too good to be true!”
To the IC3 the shopper reported the crime,
and that holiday scammer is now doing time.
We worked with our partners to solve this case,
but remember—your tips help keep us all safe!
Steve Lewis: On this episode of Inside the FBI, we’re talking about holiday shopping scams.
While these sadly happen every year, we’re especially concerned about online scammers during the 2020 holiday shopping season. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people may shop online than ever, which means more potential victims. Stay tuned to learn more about how to shop safely and smartly online.
I’m Steve Lewis, and this is Inside the FBI.
* * *
I’m Steve Lewis, and today on Inside the FBI, I’m talking with my colleague Monica Grover from the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs about tips to help you avoid getting scammed or hacked this holiday season.
Hi, Monica. So, our poem earlier mentioned the IC3. Can you start by telling us what that is? And what's their role in combating online shopping scams and other internet crimes?
Grover: So, the IC3 is the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. The IC3 gives people a way to file complaints when they are the victim of an internet-enabled crime, like an online shopping scam. The IC3 collects and analyzes that information and shares it with law enforcement. The IC3 also closely tracks internet crimes and publishes regular reports and public service announcements to help people avoid scams.
You can report tips and get more information at ic3.gov.
Lewis: So, what are some of the most common scams and crimes related to online shopping?
Grover: You’ve got credit card fraud, non-delivery of things that people have paid for, and counterfeit items.
According to the IC3’s 2019 report, non-payment or non-delivery scams cost people more than $196 million. Credit card fraud accounted for another $100 million in losses.
These crimes are common, costly, and can happen to anyone.
Lewis: What can shoppers do to protect themselves, especially now that more of us are shopping online?
Grover: One of the most important tips is to know who you’re buying from. If you’re not sure of an individual or company, do your research and check reviews.
Always check the URL to make sure you’re on a legitimate and secure site. It can be really easy for someone to set up a flashy website that’s designed to scam shoppers. 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.
The other tip is a cliché for a reason: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. For example, if you find a sought-after toy or gift for much cheaper somewhere, you may never receive anything at all. Or, if you do, it might actually be a counterfeit item. If you do get an item you think is counterfeit, contact the manufacturer.
Lewis: What’s the safest way to pay when you’re shopping online?
Grover: First off, never wire money to a seller. Also 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. And in these cases, it’s virtually impossible to get back any of your money, too.
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.
And always get a tracking number for items you buy online, so you can make sure they have been shipped, and you can follow the delivery process.
Lewis: What about suspicious emails and texts? What should we know about these?
Grover: 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 unknowingly download malware. Basically, clicking any sort of suspicious link or attachment can potentially compromise your identity and your device.
It’s important to stay safe on social media, too. It’s another place where you might encounter suspicious links, even if it looks like it's a post from a friend, or ads for deals that are too good to be true.
The best way to protect yourself online is to never click on anything unfamiliar or that you weren’t expecting. So, if a company you’ve never heard of and never done business with emails you a link or an attachment, don’t click directly on it. If you know that company’s URL, type it in manually to visit their site.
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.
Lewis: What should someone do if they think they’ve been scammed?
Grover: Definitely call your credit card company or bank. You should also reach out to your local law enforcement agency and, of course, report the scam to ic3.gov.
Lewis: Where can listeners go to learn more about these types of scams?
Grover: You can visit our website at fbi.gov/scams.
You can also check with our partners at the Federal Trade Commission at consumer.ftc.gov. Your state’s consumer protection office is a great resource, too.
Lewis: Keep these tips in mind and protect yourself, your information, and your wallet during the holiday season—and all year long.
This has been another production of Inside the FBI. I’m Steve Lewis with the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs. Thanks again for tuning in.