FBI warns of holiday online shopping scams ahead of Christmas season

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The FBI Memphis Field Office has issued a warning and reminder to Tennesseans as the Christmas season kicks off to be on the lookout for online shopping scams designed to steal money and personal information.

“According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), in 2022, Tennesseans lost $103,960,100 due to a variety of scams,” said Special Agent in Charge Douglas DePodesta. “Remain vigilant and enjoy a scam-free holiday season. If you believe you have been the victim of a scam, report it to the FBI at IC3.gov.”

Online shopping scams

Some common online shopping scams that pop up during the holiday season involve too-good-to-be-true deals sent via phishing emails or advertisements. Such schemes 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.

Consumers should steer clear of 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.

Social media scams

Scammers can also target victims through social media, according to the FBI.

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Much like website ads or phishing emails, social media sites may have posts that appear to offer vouchers or gift cards. Some may appear as holiday promotions or contests, while others may appear to be from known friends who have shared a link. Often, these scams lead consumers to participate in an online survey that is designed 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.

Gift card scams

During the holiday season, consumers should be careful if someone asks them to purchase gift cards for them. In these scams, the victims receive either a spoofed email, phone call or text from a person in authority requesting the victim purchase multiple gift cards for either personal or business reasons.

The gift cards are then used to facilitate the purchase of goods or services, which may or may not be legitimate. Some of these incidents are combined with additional requests for wire transfer payments.

Reshipping scams

These scams involve fraudsters who use stolen credit cards to buy items—usually expensive items—online. Instead of having the items shipped to the billing address, the fraudster sends them to what’s called a “reshipper.” At the “reshipper” location, the items are repackaged and usually sent overseas. There, they can often be sold at a high price on the back market.

Fraudsters will convince unwitting individuals to be money mules and accept the deliveries and become the “reshipper.” That person will then become part of the criminal enterprise without knowing it.

How to avoid being scammed

In order to protect your personal information and banking information online, the FBI recommends everyone do their homework on the retailer/website/person in order to ensure legitimacy, or conduct a business inquiry of the online retailer through the Better Business Bureau.

Consumers should also check other websites regarding the company for reviews and complaints from others.

Another way to prevent from being victim to scams is to be wary of online retails offering goods at significantly reduced prices or who use a free email service instead of a company email address.

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Shoppers should also be aware of any purchases or services that require payment with a gift card.

Never click on links contained from unsolicited emails or respond to them, the FBI said, and be wary of emails claiming to contain pictures in attached files, as those files may contain viruses. Avoid filling out forms contained in email messages that ask for personal information.

Consumers should always verify requests for personal information from any business or financial institution by contacting them directly using the main contact information on their official website; relatedly, make sure to secure your credit card accounts with strong passwords, and change your password routinely.

If you’re wanting to make charitable donations, make them directly rather than through an intermediary, and pay via credit card or check; avoid cash donations, if possible. Also, be aware of organizations with copycat names similar to reputable charities—most legitimate charity website use a .org address, not .com.

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