The FBI warns of criminals targeting online shoppers and sellers during the upcoming holiday season. During the 2022 holiday shopping season, the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received reports from almost 12,000 victims reporting non-payment/non-delivery scams, resulting in losses over $73 million. Criminals use a multitude of methods to entice and target victims intending to purchase or sell an item online.
Buyers - Be Aware!
- E-mails advertising hot-ticket or hard to find items, such as event tickets or gaming systems, that aren't from a legitimate source.
- Untrusted websites and social media ads promoting unrealistic discounts and bargains for brand-name items.
- Social media posts, often appearing to have been shared by a known friend, offering vouchers, gift cards, freebies, and contests.
- Online surveys designed to steal personal information.
- Advertisements for pets from sellers who are unable to confirm through in-person visits, video chat, etc. that the pet is real. Often, additional money is requested for various reasons that were not initially disclosed. After funds are sent, the pet never arrives.
- Online retailers who use a free email service instead of a company email address.
- Sellers posting online under one name but requesting funds to be sent to another individual, or any seller claiming to be inside the country but requesting funds to be sent to another country.
- Sellers who request payments through online payment methods that are not protected by the transfer company.
- Buyers signed up for a subscription or renewal service that wasn't advertised as part of the initial purchase. Read the fine print, know the company's return/exchange policy, ensure the purchase is clearly defined and understood, and monitor financial statements for any unauthorized charges.
Sellers - Stay Alert!
- Buyers who are overly eager and need the gift shipped immediately, pressuring the seller to ship the item.
- E-mails purporting to be from an online money transfer company claiming the funds have been sent by the buyer, without verification that funds have been received in the seller's account.
- Buyers who overpay for an item and want the difference sent to a third party.
- Buyers who receive the merchandise and ask for a refund, but do not send the original merchandise back. The merchandise sent back to secure the refund is typically something of lesser value, or nothing at all.
- E-mails purporting to be from an online money transfer company claiming the seller must upgrade their account to a "business account" by accepting or transferring an additional amount of money.
- Buyers who want the items shipped before they will send payment.
- Buyers who use one name when communicating and use another name or business name for payment purposes.
General Tips to Protect Yourself When Buying and Selling Online:
- Verify the websites utilized to purchase and sell items. Web addresses should begin with https:// and include a locked padlock icon.
- Do not judge a company solely by their website as flashy websites can be set up and taken down quickly. Use other methods to verify credentials.
- Be wary of online transactions that use payment methods such as wire transfers, virtual currency, gift cards, or cash.
- Pay for items using a credit card dedicated for online purchases, check the card statement regularly, and never save payment information in online accounts.
- Limit the use of public Wi-Fi, if possible.
- Verify the legitimacy of all parties involved by looking at consumer reviews and social media pages, as well as checking with the Better Business Bureau.
- Do not click on links in an unsolicited email or provide personal or financial information.
- Make sure anti-virus/malware software is up to date and block pop-up windows.
- Use safe passwords or pass phrases. Never use the same password on multiple accounts.
- As always - if the deal sounds too good to be true, whether you are buying or selling an item online, chances are it is a scam.
If You Are a Victim
If you are a victim of a fraud, the FBI recommends taking the following actions:
- Report to the FBI IC3 at www.ic3.gov as quickly as possible.
- Report the activity to the online payment service used for the financial transaction.
- Contact your financial institution immediately to stop or reverse the transaction. Ask your financial institution to contact the corresponding financial institution where the fraudulent or suspicious transfer was sent.