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Tips on how to avoid online scams this holiday season

The Federal Bureau of Investigation advised the public to be careful during the holiday season -or any time of the year- when a deal seems too good to be true. Chances are, it probably is.  
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The two most prevalent of these holiday scams are non-delivery and non-payment crimes, according to the FBI.

While the holiday season often means family, goodwill, and giving, scammers see the opportunity for taking, leaving thousands of people robbed of their hard-earned money. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation advised the public to be careful during the holiday season -or any time of the year- when a deal seems too good to be true. Chances are, it probably is.  

The two most prevalent of these holiday scams are non-delivery and non-payment crimes, according to the FBI. In a non-delivery scam, a buyer pays for goods or services they find online, but those items are never received. Conversely, a non-payment scam involves goods or services being shipped, but the seller is never paid.

According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center’s (IC3) 2021 report, non-payment or non-delivery scams cost people more than $337 million. Credit card fraud accounted for another $173 million in losses.

Other scams to be on the lookout for our auction fraud, where a product is misrepresented on an auction site, and gift card fraud when a seller asks you to pay with a pre-paid card.

“Whether you are shopping online or in person, the holiday season is a great time to support your local businesses. Unfortunately, it's also a period when we typically see an uptick in fraud and other scams,” said Attorney General Bonta in a statement. 

The following tips were provided by the FBI to avoid holiday scams this year. 

Practice good cybersecurity hygiene. 

  • Don’t click any suspicious links or attachments in emails, on websites, or social media. Phishing scams and similar crimes get you to click on links and give up personal information like your name, password, and bank account number. In some cases, you may unknowingly download malware to your device. 
  • Be especially wary if a company asks you to update your password or account information. Look up the company’s phone number on your own and call the company.

Know who you’re buying from or selling to.

  • Check each website’s URL to make sure it’s legitimate and secure. A site you’re buying from should have https in the web address. If it doesn’t, don’t enter your information on that site.  
  • If you’re purchasing from a company for the first time, do your research and check reviews.
  • Verify the legitimacy of a buyer or seller before moving forward with a purchase. If you’re using an online marketplace or auction website, check their feedback rating. Be wary of buyers and sellers with mostly unfavorable feedback ratings or no ratings at all.
  • Avoid sellers who act as authorized dealers or factory representatives of popular items in countries where there would be no such deals.
  • Be wary of sellers who post an auction or advertisement as if they reside in the U.S., then respond to questions by stating they are out of the country on business, family emergency, or similar reasons.
  • Avoid buyers who request their purchase be shipped using a certain method to avoid customs or taxes inside another country.

Be careful how you pay.

  • Never wire money directly to a seller. 
  • Avoid paying for items with pre-paid gift cards. In these scams, a seller will ask you to send them a gift card number and PIN. Instead of using that gift card for your payment, the scammer will steal the funds, and you’ll never receive your item. 
  • Use a credit card when shopping online and check your statement regularly. If you see a suspicious transaction, contact your credit card company to dispute the charge.

Monitor the shipping process.

  • Always get tracking numbers for items you buy online, so you can make sure they have been shipped and can follow the delivery process.
  • Be suspicious of any credit card purchases where the address of the cardholder does not match the shipping address when you are selling. Always receive the cardholder’s authorization before shipping any products.

For more information and tips on how to stay safe while shopping this holiday season, visit California’s consumer resources page at oag.ca.gov/consumers