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Online predators take advantage of people during the holidays, FBI warns

Scams designed to exploit those in the giving spirit, loney people

SAN ANTONIO – ‘Tis the season for giving, and local FBI special agents say online predators are ready to take advantage of unsuspecting people.

With the holidays approaching during a pandemic, officials said it may be easier for someone to let their guard down and get scammed.

“We really have kind of a perfect storm in front of us,” said FBI Special Agent Michelle Lee.

As consumers shop online for holiday gifts, Lee warns about websites offering fake deals. Some red flags to look out for are websites that contain what are known as internet top domains, such as .Club or .Top

“Most of the retail establishments that we routinely use have a dot com ending,” Lee said.

When you get an alleged deal in the form of a text or email, Lee said if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. One way to safely and securely verify a deal is by going directly to the site that you’re familiar with and not respond to a text message or an e-mail.

Since the holiday spirit also brings out generosity in many people, the same can be said for those hoping to donate to charities.

“We typically have people who are more giving around the holidays,” Lee said. She adds it’s best to contact the organizations directly.

Lee said many people are also searching for love online during these times, which could put someone in a vulnerable position.

“Families being apart and maybe having lost loved ones due to COVID and being lonely and looking for companionship online,” Lee said.

But beware, instead of love, the person on the other side of the screen may be a scammer looking to sweet talk you out of your money, Lee said.

“What we see routinely is these scammers, many of them are operating from around the world. So their English is not always the best,” Lee said.

While anyone could be a target, Lee says people 60 and older are often most affected. Within that age range, more than 68,000 victims reportedly lost more than $835 million last year.

Below is information from the FBI regarding scams.

INDICATORS

  • Reported indicators of the fake websites included the following:
  • Instead of .com, the fraudulent websites used the Internet top-level domains (TLD) “.club” and “.top.”
  • Websites offered merchandise at significantly discounted prices.
  • Uniform Resource Locator (URL) or web addresses were registered recently (within the last six months).
  • Websites used content copied from legitimate sites and often shared the same contact information.
  • The websites were advertised on social media.
  • Criminal actors utilized a private domain registration service to avoid personal information being published in the Whois Public Internet Directory.

TIPS TO AVOID BEING VICTIMIZED

  • Do your homework on the retailer to ensure it is legitimate.
  • Check the Who is Public Internet Directory for the retailer’s domain registration information.
  • Conduct a business inquiry of the online retailer on the Better Business Bureau’s website (www.bbb.org).
  • Check other websites regarding the company for reviews and complaints.
  • Check the contact details of the website on the “Contact Us” page, specifically the address, email, and phone number, to confirm whether the retailer is legitimate.
  • Be wary of online retailers offering goods at significantly discounted prices.
  • Be wary of online retailers who use a free email service instead of a company email address.
  • Don’t judge a company by their website; flashy websites can be set up and taken down quickly.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE A VICTIM

If you are a victim of an online shopping scam, the FBI recommends taking the following actions:

  • Report the activity to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov or your local FBI field office, which can be located at www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices.
  • Report the activity to the online payment service used for the financial transaction.
  • Contact your financial institution immediately upon discovering any fraudulent or suspicious activity and direct them to stop or reverse the transactions.
  • Ask your financial institution to contact the corresponding financial institution where the fraudulent or suspicious transfer was sent.

If you believe you are the victim of an Internet scam or cyber crime, or if you want to report suspicious activity, please visit the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov.


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