General wisdom says that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. And while no one wants to think about getting scammed over the holidays, well, it happens. The holidays might be a busy time of year for you but they’re an extremely busy time of year for scammers and their main goal is to either steal your money or your personal information … or both! RELATED: Two Scams Currently Making the Rounds That Everyone Should Know About
According to the FBI, the two most prevalent 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.”
“Make sure you do your homework when you’re shopping this year,” said FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Mike Nordwall. “In general, the types of scams we see do not change significantly. However, the techniques the scammers use and the methods of deploying these scams do change. By following a few simple tips and remaining vigilant, you can protect your information, your hard-earned money and enjoy a scam-free holiday season.”
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How exactly do scammers target you? The FBI warns to be on the lookout for online shopping scams, social media shopping scams, work from home scams, gift card scams, charity scams and smartphone app scams.
Here, the FBI offers up tips for avoiding each of these types of scams:
ONLINE SHOPPING SCAMS
The FBI says, “scammers often offer too-good-to-be-true deals via phishing emails 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.”
They say that consumers should avoid untrustworthy sites or ads offering items at unrealistic discounts or with special coupons. “The victims end up paying for an item, give away personal information and credit card details, then receive nothing in return except a compromised or stolen identity.”
FBI TIP: Do your homework on the retailer/website/person to ensure legitimacy. Conduct a business inquiry of the online retailer on the Better Business Bureau’s website (www.bbb.org).
SOCIAL MEDIA SHOPPING SCAMS
The FBI says, “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.”
If you do click an ad through a social media platform, the FBI advises that you do your due diligence to check the legitimacy of the website before providing credit card or personal information.
WORK FROM HOME SCAMS
I’m sure you’ve seen advertisements online offering work that you can do from home, many of which really do sound too good to be true. According to the FBI, “these opportunities rely on convenience as a selling point but may have fraudulent intentions. Consumers should carefully research the job posting and individuals or company offering employment.”
FBI TIP: Verify requests for personal information from any business or financial institution by contacting them using the main contact information on their official website.
GIFT CARD SCAMS
Gift cards are popular to give and get over the holidays but the FBI says that consumers should be careful if someone asks them to purchase gift cards for them. “In these scams, the victims received either a spoofed e-mail, a spoofed phone call, or a spoofed text from a person in authority requesting the victim purchase multiple gift cards for either personal or business reasons.”
“As an example, a victim receives a request to purchase gift cards for a work-related function or as a present for a special occasion. The gift cards are then used to facilitate the purchase of goods and services, which may or may not be legitimate.”
FBI TIP: Beware of purchases or services that require payment with a gift card and beware of providing credit card information when requested through unsolicited e-mails.
Fraudulent charity scams involve people setting up false charities and profit from the donations of people who believe they are giving to legitimate organizations. The FBI says, “Charity fraud rises during the holiday season, when individuals seek 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.”
Cold calls, emails, crowdfunding platforms and fake social media accounts are just some of the ways that scammers might try to reach you. “They are designed to make it easy for victims to give money and feel like they’re making a difference. Perpetrators may divert some or all the funds for their personal use, and those most in need will never see the donations,” says the FBI.
FBI TIP: The FBI recommends making charitable contributions directly, rather than through an intermediary, and pay via credit card or check; avoid cash donations, if possible. Beware of organizations with copycat names similar to reputable charities; most legitimate charity websites use .org (NOT .com).
SMARTPHONE APP SCAMS
Many of us use smartphone apps on a daily basis but did you know that some mobile apps, which the FBI says can be disguised as games and are offered for free, are designed specifically to steal your personal information? Before downloading an app from an unknown source, the FBI says that consumers should research the company selling it or giving it away and look online for third-party reviews of the product.
“Consumers should also be mindful that alternative app marketplaces available to “jailbroken” or “rooted” devices can potentially include copyright infringement, stolen content, and compromised versions of otherwise trustworthy applications.”
FBI TIP: Avoid filling out forms contained in e-mail messages that ask for personal information.
Be cautious of emails claiming to contain pictures in attached files, as the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.
These helpful tips will help to keep you safe but if you do fall victim to a scam, the FBI suggests the following:
- Contact your financial institution immediately upon discovering any fraudulent or suspicious activity and direct them to stop or reverse the transactions.
- Ask your financial institution to contact the corresponding financial institution where the fraudulent or suspicious transfer was sent.
- Report the activity to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at IC3.gov, regardless of dollar loss. Provide all relevant information in the complaint.
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