Online Holiday Shopping: Buyer, Be Cautious

Help yourself and senior loved ones avoid a not-so-happy holiday surprise

In advance of the holiday season, 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 fool potential victims. Here are some scams to be alert for:

Fraudulent Classified Ads or Auction Sales. Internet criminals may post classified ads or auctions for products they do not have. Shoppers should be cautious and not provide credit card numbers, bank account numbers, or other financial information directly to the seller.  Always use a legitimate payment service to protect purchases.
On auction websites, diligently check each seller's rating and feedback along with their number of sales and the dates on which feedback was posted. Be wary of a seller with 100% positive feedback, with a low total number of feedback postings and with all feedback posted around the same date and time.

Gift Card Scams. The safest way to purchase gift cards is directly from the merchant or authorized retail merchant. If the merchant discovers the card you received from another source or auction was initially obtained fraudulently, the merchant will deactivate the gift card number, and it will not be honored to make purchases.

"Phishing" Scams. All year long, you should be suspicious of e-mails or text messages you receive claiming there is a problem or question regarding your financial accounts. In this type of scam, you are directed to follow a link or call the number provided in the message to update your account or correct the problem. The link actually directs you to a fraudulent website; although the site may appear legitimate, any personal information you provide, such as account number and personal identification number (PIN), will be stolen.

"Black Friday" has traditionally been the "biggest shopping day of the year." The Monday following Thanksgiving has more recently been labeled "Cyber Monday," meaning the e-commerce industry endorses this special day to offer sales and promotions. Scammers try to prey on Black Friday or Cyber Monday bargain hunters by advertising "one day only" promotions from recognized brands. Fraudsters often use the hot items of the season to lure bargain hunters into providing credit card information. Consumers should be on the watch for too-good-to-be-true e-mails from unrecognized websites, or ads and messages on social media sites.

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

  • 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.
  • Avoid filling out forms contained in e-mail messages that ask for personal information.
  • 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.
  • Contact the actual business that supposedly sent the e-mail to verify that the e-mail is genuine.
  • If you are requested to act quickly or the email claims an emergency, it may be a scam. Fraudsters create a sense of urgency to get you to act impulsively.
  • If you receive a request for personal information from a business or financial institution, always look up the main contact information for the requesting company on an independent source (phone book, trusted internet directory, legitimate billing statement, etc.) and use that contact information to verify the legitimacy of the request.

Remember:  if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Source: The FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center ( Visit the IC3 website for more information about avoiding Internet fraud. You can also file a report if you or someone else has been victimized, and sign up to receive regular alerts about the latest cyberscams.