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FBI sees rise in online shopping scams

BALTIMORE, MD—The Federal Bureau of Investigation says an increasing number of victims are being directed to fraudulent websites via social media platforms and popular online search engines.

According to complaints received by the FBI, an increasing number of victims have not received items they purchased from websites offering low prices on items such as gym equipment, small appliances, tools, and furniture. Victims reported they were led to these websites via ads on social media platforms or while searching for specific items on online search engines’ “shopping” pages. Victims purchased items from these websites because prices were consistently lower than those offered by other online retail stores.

Complainants indicated the following:

  • Disposable face masks shipped from China were received regardless of what was ordered.
  • Payment was made using an online money transfer service.
  • The retail websites provided valid but unassociated U.S. addresses and telephone numbers under a “Contact Us” link, misleading victims to believe the retailer was located within the U.S.
  • Many of the websites used content copied from legitimate sites; in addition, the same unassociated addresses and telephone numbers were listed for multiple retailers.

Some victims who complained to the vendor about their shipments were offered partial reimbursement and told to keep the face masks as compensation. Others were told to return the items to China in order to be reimbursed, which would result in the victim paying high postage fees, or agree to a partial reimbursement of the product ordered without returning the items received. All attempts made by the victims to be fully reimbursed, or receive the actual items ordered, were unsuccessful.

INDICATORS

Reported indicators of the fake websites included the following:

  • Instead of .com, the fraudulent websites used the Internet top-level domains (TLD) “.club” and “.top.”
  • Websites offered merchandise at significantly discounted prices.
  • Uniform Resource Locator (URL) or web addresses were registered recently (within the last six months).
  • Websites used content copied from legitimate sites and often shared the same contact information.
  • The websites were advertised on social media.
  • Criminal actors utilized a private domain registration service to avoid personal information being published in the Whois Public Internet Directory.

TIPS TO AVOID BEING VICTIMIZED

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  • Do your homework on the retailer to ensure it is legitimate.
  • Check the Whois Public Internet Directory for the retailer’s domain registration information.
  • Conduct a business inquiry of the online retailer on the Better Business Bureau’s website (www.bbb.org).
  • Check other websites regarding the company for reviews and complaints.
  • Check the contact details of the website on the “Contact Us” page, specifically the address, email, and phone number, to confirm whether the retailer is legitimate.
  • Be wary of online retailers offering goods at significantly discounted prices.
  • Be wary of online retailers who use a free email service instead of a company email address.
  • Don’t judge a company by their website; flashy websites can be set up and taken down quickly.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE A VICTIM

If you are a victim of an online shopping scam, the FBI recommends taking the following actions:

  • Report the activity to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov or your local FBI field office, which can be located at www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices.
  • Report the activity to the online payment service used for the financial transaction.
  • Contact your financial institution immediately upon discovering any fraudulent or suspicious activity and direct them to stop or reverse the transactions.
  • Ask your financial institution to contact the corresponding financial institution where the fraudulent or suspicious transfer was sent.

If you believe you are the victim of an Internet scam or cyber crime, or if you want to report suspicious activity, please visit the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov.

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