The FBI reminds shoppers  to beware of cyber criminals and their aggressive and creative ways to steal money and personal information. Scammers use many techniques to defraud consumers by offering too good to be true deals via phishing e-mails advertising brand name merchandise, quick money making offers, or gift cards as an incentive to purchase a product. Remember, if the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is and never provide your personal information to an unknown party or untrusted website.

Scammers often use e-mail to advertise hot-ticket items of the year that may become hard to find to lure unsuspecting consumers to click on links. Steer clear of untrusted sites or ads offering items at unrealistic discounts or with special coupons. You may end up paying for an item, giving away personal information and credit card details, and then receive nothing in return, along with your identity compromised. These sites may also be offering products at a great price, but the products being sold are not the same as the products they advertise. This is known as the bait and switch scam.

Beware of posts on social media sites that appear to offer vouchers or gift cards, especially sites offering deals too good to be true, such as a free $500 gift card. Some may pose as promotions or contests. It may even appear one of your friends shared the link with you. If so, it is likely your friend was duped by the scam after it was sent to them by one of their friends. Oftentimes, these scams lead to online surveys designed to steal personal information. Remember, if the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. And never provide your personal information to an unknown party or untrusted website.

When purchasing gift cards online, be leery of auction sites selling discounted or bulk offers of gift cards. When purchasing gift cards in the store, examine the protective scratch off area on the back of the card to see if it has been tampered with.

Be on the lookout for mobile applications designed to steal your personal information from your smartphone. Such apps are often disguised as games and are often offered for free. Research the company selling or giving away the app and look online for third party reviews before installing an app from an unknown source.

Tickets to theater, concerts, and sporting events are always populars. If you purchase or receive tickets as a gift, do not post pictures of the tickets to social media sites. Protect the barcodes on tickets as you would your credit card number. Fraudsters will create a ticket using the barcode obtained from searching around social media sites and resell the ticket. You should never allow the barcode to be seen on social media.

If you are in need of extra cash, beware of sites and posts offering work you can do from the comfort of your own home. Often, the work from home opportunities rely on convenience as a selling point for applicants with an unscrupulous motivation behind the posting. You should carefully research the job posting and individuals or company contacting you for employment.

As a consumer, if you feel you are a victim of an Internet-related crime, you may file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov.

Tips

Here are some additional tips you can use to avoid becoming a victim of cyber fraud:

  • Check your credit card statement routinely.
  • Protect your credit card numbers from “wandering eyes”.
  • Do not respond to unsolicited (spam) e-mail.
  • Do not click on links contained within an unsolicited e-mail.
  • Be cautious of e-mail claiming to contain pictures in attached files, as the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders. Scan the attachments for viruses if possible.
  • Avoid filling out forms contained in e-mail messages that ask for personal information.
  • Always compare the link in the e-mail to the link you are actually directed to and determine if they actually match and lead you to a legitimate site.
  • 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. If the e-mail appears to be from your bank, credit card issuer, or other company you deal with frequently, your statements or official correspondence from the business will provide the proper contact information.
  • If you are requested to act quickly or there is an emergency, it may be a scam. Fraudsters create a sense of urgency to get you to act quickly.
  • Verify any requests for personal information from any business or financial institution by contacting them using the main contact information on their official website.
  • Remember if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

 

Identity Theft and Fraud Tips:

1-Stay on top of your financial records—In many cases you only have a 60 window to report fraudulent items; after 60 days there is no guarantee that anything can be done to get your money back. The FTC offers the option to pull your credit report at no charge once a year through their website: www.annualcreditreport.com or you can call 1-877-322-8228 to request a report.

2-“If someone approached me on the street and asked for this information, would it be normal?”—Many times fraudsters try to put their potential victims in panic mode in order to get information from them. Taking a moment to pause and put what their asking into context can put you in a better frame of mind.

3-Did you initiate the contact? Anyone over the phone or through e-communication can claim to work for a financial, be a law enforcement agent, etc. If you made the contact with a known business or entity, you’re likely in the clear for giving out information. If you didn’t make the initial contact, be a little more on guard. It’s perfectly okay to decline giving the information and choose to initiate contact yourself.

4-Known entities-Be very wary of companies that you’ve never heard of (again, and in particular—if you didn’t initially contact them first). Also be on the lookout for companies whose names sound close to well-known names.

What To Do If You’ve Been a Victim:

1-Report the Fraud-There are many cases where a call to a legitimate company who has been given your information fraudulently will cancel the account/order/etc. and refund you on their own. If there has been more wide-spread theft, call you financial institution(s) and cancel the cards, checks, accounts, etc. that have been affected. If it is a case of theft (identity or wallet theft) file a police report. Keep a copy of that report for your records—you may be asked by financials to see the report.

2-If It is Identity Theft-Place a fraud alert on your credit reports with the three major bureaus:

Equifax: 1-800-525-6285 www.equifax.com
Experian: 1-888-397-3742 www.experian.com
TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289 www.transunion.com

File a complaint with the FTC at 1-877-438-4338 or www.ftc.gov/idtheft. Write to any credit card companies and lenders that have issued credit or advanced credit by the identity thief. In the dispute letter, be specific on what charge(s) are not yours and include a copy of the police report. Make sure you get the address to send billing disputes not the address for sending payments—they are not always the same.

3-Keep Detailed Records-Working through these issues can take time and a lot of patience. Keeping good records on whom you spoke to, when, and the details of the conversation go a long way at resolving fraud or identity theft. If you need to send letters, keep copies of what you sent and (if possible) send these items via certified mail to have proof that your letter(s) were received and when.

Prevention:

1-Stay Wary-Be mindful when you’re giving out this information, to whom, and why. Make sure you know who you’re dealing with and never be afraid to ask WHY they need this information.

2-Treat Your Mail and Trash Carefully-Put outgoing mail in a proper mailbox, don’t just leave it in your own mailbox for the postman to take. On the flip-side, dispose of any trash or recycling containing personal information very carefully. Shredders, burn piles, any way to completely destroy sensitive material go a long way in thwarting Identity Thieves.

3-Careful What You Keep-There is no reason to keep a Social Security Card in your wallet. This is a goldmine for a potential thief. Also, if you have credit cards you do not routinely use, consider keeping them in a secured place within your home and not with your everyday wallet. At home, stash blank checks, personal information, and any additional credit cards in a secure space.

4-Online Safety-Paying for an annual subscription to a firewall or for virus software for your home computer is a small price to pay. As ever, be mindful of what websites your visiting, look for secured sites when entering in personal or financial information, and do not keep any detailed financial information stored on your computer (especially if it’s a tablet or a laptop).