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Practice Safe Shopping This Holiday

Be wary of deals that seem too good to be true to avoid becoming a scammer’s next victim

Are you a last minute shopper? It’s ok, we won’t judge but be careful your procrastination doesn’t cost you more than just expedited shipping. Every year, web-based scoundrels rob online shoppers of hard-earned money, personal information, and their holly, jolly spirit.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) provides the public with a convenient reporting mechanism to submit information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) concerning suspected criminal activity perpetrated online. The IC3 receives a large volume of complaints in the early months of each year, suggesting a correlation with the previous holiday season’s shopping scams.

The two most prevalent of these holiday schemes 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. According to the IC3’s 2020 report, non-payment or non-delivery scams cost online shoppers more than $265 million last year, with credit card fraud accounting for another $129 million in losses. Similar traps to beware of this time of year are auction fraud, where a product is misrepresented on an auction site, and gift card fraud, when a seller asks you to pay with a pre-paid card.

Tips to Avoid Holiday Scams

Whether you’re the buyer or the seller, there are a number of ways you can protect yourself—and your wallet.

Practice good cybersecurity hygiene.

  • Don’t click any suspicious links or attachments in emails, on websites, or on social media. Phishing scams and similar crimes get you to click on links and give up personal information like your name, password, and bank account number. In some cases, you may even unknowingly download malware to your device.
  • Be especially wary 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 dealing with.

  • Check each website’s URL to make sure it’s legitimate and secure. A site you’re buying from should have https in the web address. If it doesn’t, don’t enter your 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. If you’re using an online marketplace or auction website, check their feedback rating. Be wary of buyers and sellers with mostly unfavorable feedback ratings or no ratings at all.
  • Avoid sellers who act as authorized dealers or factory representatives of popular items in countries where there would be no such deals.
  • Be wary of sellers who post an auction or advertisement as if they reside in the U.S., then respond to questions by stating they are out of the country on business, family emergency, or similar reasons.
  • Avoid buyers who request their purchase 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.
  • Avoid paying for items with pre-paid gift cards. In these scams, a seller will ask you to send them a gift card number and PIN. Instead of using that gift card for your payment, the scammer will steal the funds, 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.
  • Be suspect of any credit card purchases where the address of the cardholder does not match the shipping address when you are selling. Always receive the cardholder’s authorization before shipping any products.

And remember: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

If you believe you’re the victim of these or some other scam:

  • Call your credit card company or your bank. Dispute any suspicious charges.
  • Contact local law enforcement.
  • Report the scam to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center IC3 at ic3.gov.
Roy Gloeckl
Roy Gloeckl resides in the southern hills of Pittsburgh, performing communications specialties for a local university. He is a lifelong gaymer who has yet to “catch ‘em all.” He is an actor who wants to be a cartoon. And yeah, he totally has a favorite dinosaur. Follow him on Instagram and tell him yours.