Shoppers looking for a good deal this holiday season should also be aware of increasingly aggressive and creative scams designed by criminals to steal money and personal information. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, Michigan ranked 16th in the number of alleged scam victims reported in 2017, with 6,400 consumers claiming a total loss of over $25 million. This year, the FBI Detroit Division wants local shoppers to be extra vigilant of the following schemes and red flags.
Online Shopping Scams: If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. Steer clear of unfamiliar sites offering unrealistic discounts on brand name merchandise or gift cards as an incentive to purchase a product, as you may end up paying for an item, giving away personal information, and receive nothing in return except a compromised identity. In addition, do not open any unsolicited e-mails or click on the links provided. Before shopping online, secure all bank and credit accounts with strong and different passwords. The same should be done for airline and rewards accounts, because the emergence of these offerings has led to an increase in the demand for and resale value of stolen information.
Social Media Scams: Beware of posts on social media sites that appear to offer vouchers or gift cards, even if it appears the offer was shared by an online friend. Some may pose as holiday promotions or contests that lead to participation in an online survey designed to steal personal information. In addition, do not post photos of event tickets on social media sites as fraudsters can use the barcode to recreate tickets for resale.
Smartphone App Scams: Some apps, often disguised as games and offered for free, may be designed to steal personal information from your device. Before downloading an app from an unknown source, look for third-party reviews and be mindful that alternative app marketplaces can potentially include stolen content and compromised. Versions of otherwise trustworthy applications.
Work-From-Home Scams: Beware of postings offering work that can be done from the comfort of home, as these opportunities may have unscrupulous motivations behind them. Take caution when money is required up front for instructions or products, or when a job post claims “no experience necessary.” Carefully research individuals or companies before providing them with personal information and never provide personal information when first interacting with a potential employer.
Gift Card Scams: Be careful if someone asks you to purchase gift cards for them. Victims receive either a spoofed email, 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 reason. The gift cards may be used to facilitate the purchase of goods and services which may or may not be legitimate.
Charity Scams: Fraudulent charity scams, where perpetrators set up false charities and profit from individuals who believe they are making donations to legitimate charitable organizations, are not just for significant events like natural disasters or man-made tragedies. Charity fraud also increases during the holiday season when individuals seek end-of-year tax deductible gifts or are reminded of those less fortunate and wish to contribute to a good cause. Charity scam solicitations may come in the form of cold calls, e-mail campaigns, crowdfunding platforms – soliciting money from many people usually over the internet, or fake social media accounts and websites, anything to make it easy for you to give and feel like you’re making a difference.
Protect Yourself: Here are some additional steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim of cyber fraud this holiday season:
- Check bank and credit card statements routinely, including immediately after making an online purchase and weeks following the holiday season.
- Only purchase merchandise from a reputable source.
- Don’t trust a website to be secure just because it claims to be.
- Beware of purchases or services that require you to pay with a gift card.
- Do not respond to spam e-mails or click on links contained within them.
- Avoid filling out forms contained in e-mails that ask for personal information.
- Be cautious of all e-mail attachments and scan them for viruses before opening.
- Verify requests for personal information from businesses or financial institutions by contacting them using the main contact information on their official website.
- Secure your credit card and reward accounts with strong passwords. Change passwords and check your account routinely.
- Be cautious when replying to unsolicited e-mails for work-at-home employment.
- Be cautious of exaggerated claims of possible earnings or profits.
- Beware when money is required up front for instructions or products for employment.
- Be cautious when dealing with individuals outside of your own country.
- Only donate to charities you know and trust; legitimate charities do not solicit donations via money transfer services or ask for donations via gift cards.
- Make contributions directly and pay via credit card or check.
- Beware of organizations with copycat names similar to reputable charities; most legitimate charitywebsites use .org (NOT .com)
- Follow the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) tips for online charity research
How to report fraud: Consumers who suspect they’ve been victimized should immediately contact their financial institution and then law enforcement. They are also encouraged to file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Centerregardless of dollar amount lost, and provide all relevant information regarding the complaint.
Source: FBI Detroit Bureau