While the holiday shopping season may have wound to a close in the past weeks, it doesn’t mean that you can let your guard down as you make purchases online. This month, we take a look at a few of the techniques cyber scammers have been using to target computer users as they shop on the Web. If you’re planning on some post-holiday shopping, and cashing in on the gift cards you received this season – or trying to buy discounted ones you see for sale online – you’ll want to pay close attention to the news, below!
Understanding the Threat
During the holiday shopping season, cyber thieves kick into high gear, looking to profit from the droves of consumers price checking and buying gifts online. And, the thieves are always on the lookout for new methods of infecting your PC or getting you to hand over personal data.
The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recently issued a warning to alert consumers that criminals are aggressively seeking new ways to steal personal information and money from consumers, to ensure that you’re on the lookout for the bad behavior being seen online this time of year.1
The Bad Behavior
According to the FBI, the techniques being used to scam victims include the following:
- Fraudulent classified ads or auction sales. To carry out one type of scheme, the scammers list classified ads or hold online auctions for products that they don’t actually have. “If you receive an auction product from a merchant or retail store, rather than directly from the auction seller, the item may have been purchased with someone else's stolen credit card number,” the FBI warns.
- Gift card scams. It may be wise to reconsider purchasing gift cards from auction sites or through classified ads at a discounted price. If the card you buy was originally obtained fraudulently, the merchant will not honor your purchases. To ensure that you’re getting a legitimate card, purchase directly from the merchant or an authorized retail store.
- Phishing and smishing schemes. In this type of fraud, the scammer will send an e-mail or text message ‘alerting’ you to a problem with one of your financial accounts, and directing you to a link (a scam site setup to pilfer the details you provide), to a spoofed site, or to call a number to provide account information.
To stay safe from scams as you shop online, it’s always best to think before you click, and especially before you take out your credit or debit card! The FBI has a helpful list of specific tips – a must-read for avoiding the scams above – on its New E-Scams & Warnings page. The FBI also encourages users to receive the latest information about cyber scams by signing-up for its e-mail alerts – just go to the FBI website and click one of the red envelopes.