This week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a warning to consumers to be on the lookout for shopping-related fraud during Cyber Monday and the rest of the holiday season.
“Scammers hope to … to lure in victims with offers that sound too good to be true. From fraudulent auction sales to gift card, phishing, and social networking scams and more, cyber crime schemes are ever-evolving and, unfortunately, still successful,” according to a statement by the U.S. agency.
In 2012, the Association for Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) found that losses from fraud increased by 20 percent during the holiday season compared to the rest of the year. Fraud experts cited employee embezzlement and internal theft as the leading cause of losses.
Additionally, 61 percent of CFEs considered financial/economic pressure as the primary factor in the perpetration of fraud.
Identity Theft and Internet Risks
This holiday season, businesses are likely to see a similar trend as cash-strapped employees and laid-off workers look to financial crimes as a source of illegitimate income.
Shopping transactions through the Internet, where sensitive information is often shared with unfamiliar businesses through unsecure networks, are also posing risks for consumers. Cyber criminals also use social networking sites, such as Facebook, to gather personal information on their victims.
“We’re seeing a significant increase in identity theft cases that result from individuals sharing too much information online,” says Tom Burnett, a spokesman for Wymoo International, a global investigation firm which conducts background checks, due diligence, and private investigations. “In most cases, the crime could have been prevented had the victim been more cautious about what information can be found in the public domain and the Internet.”
On Dec. 2, the FBI offered the following tips for holiday shoppers:
· Purchase merchandise only from reputable sellers. Be suspicious of websites that do not provide contact information, and be wary if the seller only accepts wire transfers or cash.
· Do not respond to or click on links from spam emails.
· Be cautious of e-mails claiming to contain pictures in attached files; the files may contain viruses.
· Log on directly to the official website for the business identified in the e-mail instead of linking to it from an unsolicited e-mail. Look for proper contact information.
· If you are requested to act quickly or there is an emergency that requires your attention, it may be a scam. Fraudsters create a sense of urgency to get you to act quickly.
· If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult for some shoppers, including senior citizens, to distinguish between real online retailers and fake websites designed to capture sensitive data such as credit card numbers.
“Online criminals are producing high quality websites, registering false companies, and creating fake profiles,” says Burnett, in a Dec. 3 interview with Examiner.com. “Much of the information on the Internet is false, so it’s becoming more difficult to determine who is real and who is a criminal.”
Online Shopping Scams
Here is a list of online shopping scams faced by consumers:
· Fake gift cards: Criminals sell phony gift cards or gift cards purchased with a stolen credit card.
· Phony e-greeting cards: Electronic greeting cards which often contain shady hyperlinks.
· Fraudulent classified ads: Scammers post ads online for products they do not have.
· Phishing: Shoppers receive e-mails or text messages indicating a problem or question regarding a financial account, and the victim is asked to click a suspicious link or to provide sensitive information such as a credit card number.
· One-day-only promotions: Urgent promotions which ask consumers to provide highly sensitive information.
Shoppers should exercise caution when using the Internet for transactions, especially during the holiday season. Making purchases at reliable websites is one way to mitigate risks. Additionally, consumers should never provide sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, in suspicious circumstances.