FBI Salt Lake City Warns About Holiday Scams

FBI Salt Lake City Special Agent Casey Harrington says the holidays are a big time of the year for holiday scammers. "They want to seize on this online demand for toys and other products to try to trick people into giving up their personal information, credit card information, log in information, so they can financially profit from it."

Video Transcript

It’s a big time of year for shoppers, it’s a big time of year for retailers, it’s a big time of year for scammers.  They want to seize on this online demand for toys and other products to try to trick people into giving up their personal information, credit card information, log in information, so they can financially profit from it.  It can be very lucrative.  I mean, if they’re able to get a hold of someone’s credit card information or account credentials to online retailers, they can make purchases. They can do it at a scale where it’s thousands of people that they do it to and have a huge impact.

Every year, thousands of people become victims of holiday scams.

It’s millions of dollars and that’s probably just a fraction of what actually happens.  A lot of stuff doesn’t get reported or may not be reported through IC3.  It may go through local police departments, so there’s a lot we probably don’t even know about but it’s easily into the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars.

The criminals are getting better and better, there’s no doubt.  It used to be 20 years ago everyone talked about that Nigerian prince scam emails, and there were misspellings and grammatical errors, and it’s not that way anymore.  They can craft emails and text messages to look completely accurate.  You would really have to know what you’re doing and pay attention to notice the difference, and so we want to make sure people are vigilant when they get these emails or text messages.

Most of the scammers are located overseas.  They’re targeting people in the U.S. because we’re the ones spending the most amount of money.  They have the ability to do that.  They don’t have to be here in the U.S. to do it.  They can send an email from anywhere they can use your credit card from anywhere.

Common types of scams and how to avoid them

The general set up of the scams are the same, right?  They’re trying to get you to give them their credit card information or your online password or credentials or whatever it is, or gift cards but what changes every year is, it’s a new product or a new ad or a new way to get you to hand over that information.  In the end they’re trying to get something from you, they’re trying to build something that looks legitimate that isn’t, trying to sell you something that looks real, but isn’t.  Usually they just make a change every year for what’s ever going on in the news or whatever the hot product is.

The main way we see people getting compromised or falling for scams is through email or text messages.  They’ll create an email that looks completely legitimate and ask you to you to update your account credentials or provide updated information for your account, and if you’re not careful about what you’re looking at in your email it’s easy to fall for that.  Kind of the newer thing is with text messages.  They’ll say, “Hey, a package is coming today,” they’ll copy the exact format of what you may be looking for.  Everyone has packages coming to their house this time of year.  It says click here for an update and by clicking there you may download malware onto your phone that will then steal other information or it may ask you to enter information they will then steal to use for financial purposes.

It is difficult to tell, especially on text messages.  They’re short, they’re not a lot of text there obviously, right?  So what we tell people is go to the real site if the text message comes through saying your package from UPS will be delivered today go to your phone, go to your computer and actually go to the UPS website and type in the information.  Don’t trust that that link in that text message is real.

The big thing we see with the ad is, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.  They’ll advertise gaming system or a toy or product that’s in high demand for a price that’s outrageous and people will click on it.  They’re so interested in getting this product that they don’t think through what they’re doing or what information they’re giving away.

We try to say. if it’s your first time buying from a retailer online, do your research, make sure they have a good reputation.  The Better Business Bureau has things online you can do, online searches and see sometimes in the web address you want to look for “https”, the “s” means secure or a little bit more secure transaction.  Make sure the contact information, there’s something in the U.S. or something you can find if you do need to call the retailer.

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)

IC3 is the Internet Crime Complaint Center.  They accept victim information from all over the world, thousands per day. every single day about internet fraud.  It really helps us identify trends and significant activity so if we see a specific email being used or a specific website or a specific technique being used by these actors we can open an investigation on that and try to figure out who’s doing it.  So it really helps us determine where to point our resources.  It also helps pushing out notices to the public.

Does the FBI see an increase of crime on Cyber Monday?

There isn’t necessarily an increase on Cyber Monday of reporting.  What we usually see is people don’t find out about the scam until later, maybe weeks or months later when they check their credit card statement and see that they’ve been charged for something they didn’t order or someone else is ordering things with their credit card information.

The bottom line

I think the key is slow down.  I think people get in a rush, so slow down, pay attention to what you’re buying, what information you’re giving away.  It is avoidable.  Criminal actors are very good, but I think the key like I said is just slow down, look at what you’re doing, think about the information you’re giving away who it’s going to and make sure make very sure it’s going to the right place.

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