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Utah FBI agents tell you how to protect yourself from cyber grinches during the holidays

By Dennis Romboy, KSL | Posted - Dec. 3, 2019 at 4:35 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — Social media is rife with scammers looking to steal people’s money and personal information during the holiday season.

Federal investigators say most of the cybercrime they’re seeing right now is on apps like Instagram and Twitter.

“Instead of just sending you an email with the scam or a lure, they’re doing it on social media because they know everyone’s on there,” said Jeffrey Collins, FBI supervisory special agent over the cyber task force in Salt Lake City.

“You need to be very cautious of any advertisements on social media.”

Social media ads might take you to websites you’ve never heard of, often offering gift cards to shop on the site after filling out a survey, he said. Consumers will get a useless card, while criminals get their name, address or credit card number.

“They’re trying to trick you into providing information,” Collins said.

More than 3,000 Utahns fell prey to online fraud last year totaling $20.6 million in losses, according to the 2018 FBI internet crime report. The statistics are based on complaints made to the FBI’s internet crimes complaint center at

In 2018, the center received 351,936 complaints with losses exceeding $2.7 billion nationwide.

At a time of year where it seems every website is offering the best deal, it’s hard to know which one to trust. Collins suggests shopping only with reputable sites and avoiding those with which you aren’t familiar or at least doing some research before loading your shopping cart.

“Don’t just automatically trust it because it’s a good deal," he said.

Even if an offer comes from your own bank, it’s best to check its website or call to verify whether it’s legitimate, Collins said.

Email also continues to be a way for scammers to deceive people, especially with links and attachments, which Collins said should not be opened. Text messages, too, could be used for phishing attacks.

The Utah Division of Consumer Protection also is warning holiday shoppers to be wary of online scams.

“Holiday shopping can bring out both great deals for consumers and scammers posing as legitimate businesses online. Be sure to protect your purchases and personal information this year when checking off your gift list,” said Francine Giani, Utah Department of Commerce executive director.

The state offers a list of tips for safe shopping:

  • Beware of rogue public Wi-Fi spots. Fraudsters will set up shop at popular public Wi-Fi locations and promote “free” connections to entice consumers to connect their devices. Before you connect to any Wi-Fi, make sure the connection is password protected and don’t enter personal or credit card information.
  • Secure your smartphone and tablet devices. Mobile devices are a convenient resource but may also provide fraudsters with access to your personal and account information. Only install apps or programs from known sources, keep an eye on your bill, investigate if your battery runs down quickly and don’t leave your phone unattended. Also, make sure you log off retailers’ websites so your information isn’t vulnerable to cyber thieves.
  • Keep your anti-virus software up to date on your mobile devices and home computer. Make sure you have installed the latest firewall and anti-virus software to protect your mobile devices and computers against hacker attacks.
  • Don’t send cash or wire money for payment. Do not wire money via Western Union, Money Gram, Green Dot card or any other wire service for online purchases; you may be handing over your money to scammers, and never get the item you ordered. Pay by credit card to protect your purchases.
  • Compare prices, look out for phantom websites. Anyone can create a store online. Confirm the online seller’s physical address and phone number in case you have any problems or questions. If you are buying an item from websites such as eBay or Etsy, be sure to use a trusted payment service or your credit card to protect your funds if you need to file a dispute with the seller.
  • Avoid counterfeit products. Carefully examine the products you want to buy for signs of missing information (manufacturing information, warranty, product codes, etc.), broken or missing safety seals, different or incomplete packaging, and subtle or obvious changes to a company logo.
  • Appy holidays: For safe online shopping, make sure your apps are downloaded from a trusted source, such as the Android Market, Apple App Store or the Amazon App Store. When you download the app, it will ask for various permissions. Be sure to read through them and note whether they make sense. For example, does a shopping app need access to your contact list? Another way to check on the safety of apps is to read through the feedback in the comments section of the market and choose apps with a high rating.
  • Enter financial information only on secure sites. Do not email financial information, like your credit card or checking account number. If you initiate a purchase online, look for indicators that the site is secure. Although no indicator is foolproof, look for a lock icon on the browser’s status bar, or a URL address that includes an “s” after http.
  • Keep a paper trail in a file folder. Print and save records of all your online transactions, including the product description, price, online receipt and emails in case you need to return a gift after the holidays.
  • Before you purchase, review the refund policy and delivery rates. Look to see if you can return a product for a full refund before you complete the transaction. Check out who pays for the cost of shipping a returned item and if the company charges a “restocking” fee back to the consumer.
  • Consider coupons: Some companies offer discounts via email, and some websites collect and list codes for free shipping and other discounts. Search for the store with terms like “discount,” “coupon” or “free shipping.”
  • Read retailer and product reviews. Reviews from other people, experts, and columnists can give you an idea of how a product performs. But don’t put all of your trust in one review. A brand’s reputation for quality and good customer service can really pay off.

For more information on how to protect yourself from scams or to file a complaint with the state, go to

Dennis Romboy

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