To avoid coronavirus-spreading crowds, more of us — record numbers of us — are doing our Christmas shopping online this year.
So we ought to be aware: Record numbers of scammers and criminals are online this holiday season, too, the FBI’s Minneapolis field office warned in a statement last week to media outlets, including to the News Tribune Opinion page.
"Scammers are very much looking forward to the holidays to find ways to swindle unsuspecting shoppers,” Special Agent Michael Paul said in the statement. “Due to COVID-19, shoppers should be more vigilant than ever for scams designed to steal their money and personal information.”
One common online shopping scam involves too-good-to-be-true deals in phishing emails or online advertisements, the FBI said. Brand-name merchandise is offered at low, low prices, but the products received end up being different and of poorer quality; victims get shortchanged while giving away personal information and credit card details.
Another scam involves holiday promotions or contests, often posted or shared on social media, with online surveys that are written to steal personal information. “If you click an ad through a social-media platform, do your due diligence to check the legitimacy of the website before providing credit card or personal information.
There are work-from-home scams out there, so carefully research job postings, the FBI advised; gift-card scams, so be wary if someone asks you to buy a gift card for them; charity scams involving false charities (these are common following natural disasters, too); and reshipping scams with fraudsters using stolen credit cards to buy expensive items online to be delivered to “reshippers,” who repackage them and send them overseas to be sold at a profit on the black market. “Fraudsters will convince unwitting individuals to be money mules and accept the deliveries and become the ‘reshipper,’” the FBI’s Kevin W. Smith wrote. “That person (then becomes) part of their criminal enterprise without knowing it. Don’t be a money mule!”
To protect yourself this Christmas and anytime you shop online, do your homework before buying from any site. Online retailers can be checked out through the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org), said the FBI. Check reviews and complaints at a seller’s site but also at other, independent sites. Check a site’s “Contact Us” page to see if it’s legitimate. Be suspicious of significantly discounted prices and online retailers who use free email like gmail instead of a company email address. Don’t be taken in by a flashy website as they can be set up and taken down quickly. Avoid purchases or services that require payment via a gift card.
In addition, beware of providing credit card information when requested through unsolicited emails. Do not click links in unsolicited emails or respond to them. Set up credit card transaction auto alerts and check your balance routinely, plus after online purchases; check again after the holidays, too, as fraudulent charges can show up weeks later. Avoid forms in emails that ask for personal information. Don’t click on attached files in unsolicited emails or emails from unknown senders, as they may contain viruses. Use strong passwords and change them often.
Make your charitable contributions directly using a credit card or check (avoid cash donations). And remember, most legitimate charitable organizations use dot-org in their web addresses, not dot-com.
If you do get taken, the FBI recommends reporting it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3.gov) and contacting your financial institution to direct it to stop or reverse transactions and to also contact the financial institution where the fraudulent or suspicious transfer went.
This Christmas season, “Scammers are trying to steal a deal, too,” Smith wrote. “With more people shopping online this year, shoppers may encounter more online shopping scams.”
But with vigilance and caution, we don’t have to become victims.