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Keeping your money safe this holiday season: FBI tips for avoiding scams

The number of Arizonans victimized by online scammers has drastically increased in the last several years, which prompted the FBI to put out a warning.

ARIZONA, USA — The number of Arizonans victimized by online scammers has drastically increased in the last several years, which prompted the FBI to put out a warning for people doing their shopping online this holiday season.

Arizona ranks 14 out of all 50 states in the number of people that reported being scammed out of millions of dollars last year, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (iC3).

“The scammers, they don’t take holidays off,” said Kevin Smith, the agency’s Phoenix Division spokesperson. “There’s two things that scammers want from us, money and personal information.”

In 2020, the number of alleged victims in Arizona that reported being scammed nearly doubled to 13,000 from the previous year. During that time, online thieves took more than $72 million out of people’s pockets, iC3 data showed.

The amount taken by online criminals increased 300% in the last five years, the FBI reported.

“This is money that you’re not getting back,” said Smith. “These crimes aren’t ones that you see on TV that are reported, investigated and solved in 48 [hours]. These things take years and sometimes they don’t get solved.”

Smith said most people are tricked into buying items from fake emails or advertisements and enter personal information onto compromised websites.

How to safely shop online this holiday season

If a sale is too good to be true, it probably is, and the FBI wants you to be on alert when you buy gifts online.

The agency has the following recommendations to protect yourself from holiday fraud schemes:

  • Before shopping online, secure all financial accounts with strong passwords or passphrases. Additionally, the FBI recommends using different passwords for each financial account.
  • Buy directly from a secure and reputable website.
  • Check bank and credit card statements routinely, including after making online purchases and in the weeks following the holiday season.
  • Never give personal information— such as your date of birth, Social Security number, or billing addresses— to anyone you do not know.
  • Be wary of promotions and giveaways that request your personal information.
  • Verify the legitimacy of buyers or sellers before making a purchase. If you’re using an online marketplace or auction website, check feedback ratings.
  • Avoid solicitations or ads with misspelled words, broken English, or requests to pay for your order with a gift card.
  • Track your order through your original confirmation email.
  • Be cautious of emails claiming to contain pictures in attached files, as the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders and scan all attachments for viruses if possible.
  • Be cautious when dealing with individuals outside of the country.

“If you get a bad feeling, it tells you something,” said Smith. “Keep track of your bank statements… and report to your financial institution right away if you can.”

On average, 3,000 people report being scammed online every single day nationwide, Smith said.

Shopping online vs. in-person

As people try to get the best deal for their Christmas shopping gifts, shoppers are split between shopping online or in-person.

“[I’m] going to stay away from shopping online,” said Brenda Adams. “There’s a lot of scams.”

Adams said she prefers getting her holiday gifts in-person after being targeted by scammers in the past.

“They just keep sending emails and it said, ‘your package just arrived,’ but I never ordered anything, so I know someone is trying to get to me,” Adams added.

But millions of customers like Kathy Strasser do most of their shopping online. She said only her granddaughter’s gift was physically picked up at a store.

“I only do online on trusted sites,” Strasser said. “I look to make sure that the pop-up ads don’t re-direct me to another site.”

No matter how you shop, the FBI warns everyone should be cautious and alert, as the agency can’t investigate every report it receives.

“We need people to take it upon themselves to be careful, to be safe and check in on others to see if they are [shopping] safe,” he added.

FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center Arizona’s data

2020 – 13,009 victims - $72,128,637 million lost

2019 – 7,795 victims - $47,058,842 million lost

2018 – 8,027 victims - $45,166,115 million lost

2017 – 6,400 victims - $59,366,635 million lost

2016 – 6,349 victims - $20,567,423 million lost

2015 – 5,770 victims - $18,087,735 million lost

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