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The No. 1 shopping scam this holiday season

It’s an oldie, but a baddie.

Supply-chain issues and shortages of certain electronics, toys and other products, the holiday season and letting off steam after a second year of a global pandemic have all created a perfect storm for would-be thieves.

The Federal Trade Commission said there were 57,769 online shopping fraud reports from Jan. 1 to Oct. 18, followed by travel scams (46,458), diet scams (15,713), government imposters (12,491) and business imposters (8,794).

And the No. 1 way of contacting would-be victims? Believe it or not, it’s old-fashioned email. Those pesky phishing links were the point of contact resulting in 19,107 fraud reports over that same period.

The holiday season is fertile ground for scams.

Emails were closely followed by fake websites (17,444), texts (16,742), phone calls (14,156) and social media (10,520). Shopping scams, most of which were online, accounted for losses of more than $47.3 million, the FTC said in a recent report.

“In addition to losing money on a bogus purchase, unsuspecting consumers may be giving away personal information and debit or credit card details, “the Federal Bureau of Investigations said in a public-service announcement.

“During the 2020 holiday shopping season, the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received over 17,000 complaints regarding the non-delivery of goods, resulting in losses over $53 million,” it added. It expects the number to rise this year.

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The holiday season is fertile ground for scams. Consumers spent $5.1 billion online on Thanksgiving and are expected to spend between $8.8 billion and $9.6 billion online on Black Friday, according to the latest data from Adobe analytics.

For the holiday season (Nov. 1 to Dec. 31), purchases are predicted to reach $207 billion, a 10% increase year-on-year and a new all-time record. Scammers pretend to be shoppers and masquerade online with fake UPS or Fedex links.

How to say vigilant

Be vigilant? The ‘s’ in ‘https’ adds a layer of security — https:// instead of http:// — to spot websites that look legitimate and/or claim to be part of a well-known brand. That too-good-to-be true price on that Gucci handbag means it’s probably a fake.

Don’t be persuaded into paying using bitcoin
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or Western Union
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.
Stick to secure methods of paying like PayPal
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and use a credit card rather than a debit card as the former tends to have more fraud protections.

The FBI also suggests: “Never make purchases using public Wi-Fi. Only purchase gift cards directly from a trusted merchant. Never use the same password on multiple accounts. Do not judge a company by their website.”

Scammers try to catch you off-guard.

“Beware of sellers posting 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,” it adds.

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Video chat with the owner before buying a pet, the FBI says. “Criminals will use legitimate website photos to promise the non-existent pet to multiple buyers. Red flags include added shipping/carrier fees, taxes, and or vaccination costs.”

Bottom line: phone calls, emails and fake websites are all designed to catch you off-guard. You may, for instance, be stressed out or tired after a long day’s work and panic if you see a message purported to be about your holiday shopping.

If you are the victim of an online scam, report to the FBI IC3 as quickly as possible, report the activity to the online payment service used for the transaction, and contact your financial institution immediately.

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