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More online shopping means more holiday scamming, FBI warns

By Dennis Romboy, Deseret News | Posted - Dec. 1, 2020 at 8:05 a.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY — With perhaps more Americans than ever shopping online this holiday season because of the pandemic, cyberspace is rife with scammers looking to steal people's money and personal information.

Though the internet scams haven't changed much since last year, criminals have more targets for their deceptive ads, fake emails and phishing attacks.

"I think maybe what's different this year is that there are more people shopping online. There's more people working from home. There's students at home. There's more people online," said FBI supervisory special agent Casey Harrington in Salt Lake City.

Scammers are also using coronavirus-related themes in their emails, whether it's fake test kits or treatments or promising free care to access people's health insurance or personal information, he said.

"There's more vulnerable people out there," Harrington said.

Salesforce.com projects that nearly a third of all holiday sales will occur online this year.

Consumers spent a record $4.7 billion online on Small Business Saturday, a 30% increase over last year, and $23.5 billion over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, a 23% increase over 2019, according to Adobe Analytics.

Adobe expects Cyber Monday to be the largest online sales day in history with between $10.8 billion and $12.7 billion spent.

Among all the traffic, cybercriminals are lurking, prompting the FBI to warn consumers to be vigilant whether they're shopping from a phone, computer or other electronic devices.

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Harrington says people need to be aware of ads on social media for free gift cards, quizzes and surveys and claims of big discounts. Clicking on those often takes users to a bogus website, he said.

"The criminals that are doing this are very good," Harrington said. "Sometimes it's very hard to tell that you're at fraudulent website. It may look exactly the like the real one and people are desperate for a good deal."

More than 3,300 Utahns fell prey to online fraud last year totaling $46.5 million in losses, ranking the state 18th nationally, according to the 2019 FBI internet crime report. The statistics are based on complaints made to the FBI's internet crimes complaint center at www.ic3.gov. People over age 60 accounted for more than half of the losses.

In 2019, the center received 467,361 complaints with losses exceeding $3.5 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. The FBI 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.

Harrington said consumers should also carefully check their credit card statements in January and February to make there isn't any fraud related to their holiday shopping.

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Dennis Romboy

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