When shopping online during the holidays—or any time of year—always be leery of deals which seem incredible. Do all you can to avoid becoming a scammer’s next victim.
Thousands of people become victims of holiday fraud every year. Cyber-criminals can rob you of hard-earned money, personal information, and, at the very least, a celebratory mood.
According to the FBI, the two most common holiday season scams are non-delivery and non-payment crimes. Non-delivery scams occur when a buyer pays for goods or services they find online, but the items are never received. On the other hand, a non-payment scam involves goods or services being shipped, but the seller is never paid.
The Internet Crime Complaint Center’s (IC3) 2021 report shows non-payment or non-delivery scams cost people more than $337 million. Credit card fraud accounted for another $173 million in losses.
If You’ve Been Scammed
- Call your credit card company or your bank. Dispute any suspicious charges.
- Contact local law enforcement.
- Report the crime to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at ic3.gov.
Tips To Avoid Holiday Scams
Whether you’re buying or selling, there are many ways you can protect yourself—and your money.
- Check your device.
- Before making any online purchases or sales, make sure the device you’re using online is up to date. This includes the software on not only your phone, laptop, and/or desktop, but also appliances, electronics, and children’s toys. Next, look at your accounts and ask, do they each have strong passwords? And even better, if two-factor authentication is available, are you using it?
- Practice good cybersecurity.
- Don’t click any suspect attachments or links in emails, websites, or on social media. Scroll over links and make sure they are going to the site listed in the email, website, or on social media. If the content says one thing, and your scrollbar shows something else, don’t click. Phishing attacks and similar crimes get you to click on links and give up personal information like your name, password, and bank account number. You may also unknowingly download malware to your device.
- Be especially suspicious if a company asks you to update your password or account information. Look up the company’s phone number on your own and call the company.
- Know who you’re buying from or selling to.
- Check the website’s URL to make sure it’s valid and uses encryption. A site you’re buying from should have https in the web address. If it doesn’t, don’t enter your personal or payment information on that site.
- If you’re purchasing from a company for the first time, do your research and check reviews.
- Verify the legitimacy of a buyer or seller before moving forward with a purchase. Check feedback ratings. Be suspicious of buyers and sellers with predominantly unfavorable feedback ratings or no ratings at all.
- Avoid sellers that portray themselves as official dealers or factory representatives of popular products in countries where there would be no such deals.
- Avoid sellers who post an auction or advertisement as if they live in the U.S., then respond to your questions by saying they are out of the country on business, family emergency, or similar reasons.
- Be leery of buyers that request purchases be shipped using a certain method to avoid customs or taxes inside another country.
- Be careful how you pay.
- Never wire money directly to a seller.
- Do not pay for items with pre-paid gift cards. In these crimes, a seller will ask you to send them a gift card number and PIN. The scammer will steal the funds instead of using that gift card for your payment, and you’ll never receive your item.
- Use a credit card when shopping online and check your statement regularly. If you see a suspicious transaction, contact your credit card company to dispute the charge.
- Monitor the shipping process.
- Always get tracking numbers for items you buy online, so you can make sure they have been shipped and can follow the delivery process.
- As a seller, be suspect of any credit card purchase where the address of the cardholder does not match the shipping address. Always receive the cardholder’s authorization before shipping any products.
- And remember: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) 2022, Holiday Scams, accessed 29 November 2022, < https://www.fbi.gov/how-we-can-help-you/safety-resources/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/holiday-scams >.
Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) 2022, Holiday Online Safety Tip Sheets, accessed 29 November 2022, < https://www.cisa.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Holiday%20Online%20Safety_tip%20sheets_2020-v5-DW_508%20pobs.pdf>.