Holiday Online Shopping Scams – Don’t Be a Victim | Ron Benvenisti

Many shoppers will go online this time of year to find the best deals on popular items. But the sellers you buy from may not be what they seem.

According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), thousands of people become victims of holiday scams every year. 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. In 2018 alone, the IC3 estimates that non-delivery and non-payment scams together affected more than 65,000 victims, causing almost $184 million in losses.

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 the year, suggesting a correlation with the previous holiday season’s shopping scams. 

Always be wary of deals that seem too good to be true:

Do your part to avoid becoming a victim. These simple tips from the IC3 can help you look out for scammers during the holiday season or any other time of year:

  • Always get a tracking number for items purchased online so you can make sure they have been shipped and can follow the delivery process.
  • 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 sellers who post an auction or advertisement under one name but ask that payment be sent to someone else.
  • Consider canceling your purchase if a seller requests funds be wired directly to them via a money transfer company, pre-paid card, or bank-to-bank wire transfer. Money sent in these ways is virtually impossible to recover, with no recourse for the victim. Always remember that anyone who asks you to use one of these forms of payment might be a scammer. A credit card is generally the safest way to pay for an online purchase.
  • Avoid sellers who act as authorized dealers or factory representatives of popular items in countries where there would be no such dealers.
  • 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 buyers who request their purchase be shipped using a certain method to avoid customs or taxes inside another country.
  • Be suspect of any credit card purchases where the address of the cardholder does not match the shipping address. Always receive the cardholder’s authorization before shipping any products.
  • Always be wary of deals that seem too good to be true.

If you do become the victim of a holiday scam, contact your bank immediately. You should also inform your local law enforcement agency, and file a complaint with the IC3 at ic3.gov.

Remember, criminals don’t take the holidays off; they are busy gearing up for an active season of their own. With more people than ever doing their holiday shopping online, the FBI reminds shoppers to look out for scams designed to steal money and personal information.

If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. Scammers may offer too-good-to-be-true deals through phishing emails or advertisements. Some may offer brand name merchandise at extremely low discounts or promise gift cards as an incentive to purchase a product. Others may offer products at a great price, but the products being sold are not the same as the products advertised.

Steer clear of suspicious sites, phishing emails, or ads offering items at unrealistic discounts. Do not open unsolicited emails and do not click on any links attached. You may end up paying for an item, giving away personal information and credit card details, and receive nothing in return except a compromised identity.

When shopping online, do your research. Make sure a site is secure and reputable before providing your credit card number. Don’t trust a site just because it claims to be secure and beware purchases or services that require you to pay with a gift card.

Beware of social media posts that appear to offer special vouchers or gift cards. Some may pose as holiday promotions or contests. It may even appear that a friend shared the link. Often, these scams lead you to participate in an online survey that is actually designed to steal personal information.

Protect yourself:

Secure your banking and credit accounts with strong passphrases, as well as all other accounts that contain anything of value such as rewards accounts, online accounts that save your payment information, or accounts containing private, personal information.

Check your credit card and bank statements regularly to make sure no fraudulent charges have been made to your account.

If you suspect you’ve been victimized:

  • Contact your financial institution immediately upon suspecting or discovering a fraudulent transfer.
  • Request that your bank reach out to the financial institution where the fraudulent transfer was sent.
  • Contact local law enforcement.
  • File a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov, regardless of dollar loss.

Additional Resources: 

 

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