FBI Jacksonville warns of scams affecting local shoppers

Scammers are ready to pounce now that the holidays are here. You may think you won’t fall prey — but crooks can be sneaky — and if they get to you, it will hit you where it hurts the most: your wallet.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Scammers are ready to pounce now that the holidays are here. You may think you won’t fall prey — but crooks can be sneaky — and if they get to you, it will hit you where it hurts the most: your wallet.

Just ask the more than 17,000 victims who lost more than $53 million to scammers during the holiday season last year. And those numbers only include the people who reported it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), so those numbers could be even higher.

Floridians fall victim more than most.

“Last year, Florida once again ranked second in the country for the highest number of victims who filed scam complaints with the FBI,” said FBI Jacksonville spokesperson Amanda Videll. “Criminals spend a lot of time getting to know their target victims, and they often will create elaborate schemes to steal money and personal information. We must always be on high alert and pay attention to every red flag.”

According to FBI Jacksonville, the two most prevalent holiday scams are non-delivery and non-payment crimes. Basically, you paid for it, but you never got it. Or you sent an item but you the seller never got paid.

Scammers have adapted to how you shop nowadays. They know you are looking online and on social media for that must-have gift that everyone seems to be out of. They know you’ll click on email offers and ads in the hopes of finding what you want. They know you’ll type in your payment and personal information. They know you may not notice it’s a bogus website or phishing scheme until it’s too late.

“These scammers, they’re sneaky, and they’re very smart. They know that consumers are shopping more online this holiday season because of concerns with COVID-19,” Videll said on “The Morning Show” on Monday. “They also know consumers are willing to pay top dollar for some of those hard to find items.”

Scammers are ready to pounce now that the holidays are here. You may think you won’t fall prey – but crooks can be sneaky – and if they get to you, it will hit you where it hurts the most: your wallet.

Know who you are buying from or selling to:

  • The FBI says 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. “That ‘S’ stands for secure. That means when you put in your personal information or your financial information, that your information is more protected on those sites. You can’t let your guard down, but, certainly, your information is more protected there,” Videll said.
  • If you’re purchasing from a company for the first time, do your research and check reviews. “Be sure to check the feedback on that website. If you see mostly negative feedback or no ratings, that is a big red flag,” Videll said.
  • 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.
  • If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Be careful how you pay:

  • Never wire money directly to a seller.
  • Avoid paying for items with prepaid 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. “You should be given that information when you complete that purchase — go on and look at it regularly. If you see that package go off track at any point, make sure to contact that vendor and try to figure out what’s going on,” Videll said.
  • Be suspect 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.

Other common holiday scams:

  • Social media scams: Scammers use social media sites that appear to offer vouchers or gift cards. These scams often lead consumers to complete online surveys designed to steal personal information.
  • Smartphone app scams: Scammers design mobile apps disguised as free games that steal personal information.
  • Work-from-home scams: Scammers use websites and social media posts that offer working from home. Convenience is the attention grabber, but there may be fraudulent intentions.
  • Gift card scams: Victims receive a spoofed e-mail, call, or text asking them to purchase multiple gift cards for person or business reasons.
  • Charity scams: Criminals set up false charities and profit from individuals who believe they are donating to legitimate organizations.

What to do if you’ve been scammed?

The FBI says there are three things to do If you believe you are a victim of a scam:

  1. Contact your bank or financial institution. “Reach out so they can take any steps to make sure you don’t lose any of your personal finances,” Videll said.
  2. Contact your local law enforcement.
  3. File a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) here. “What that allows us to do is track these scams as they move across the country. It also allows them to put those scams together — connect them to other victims across the country,” Videll said.

About the Authors:

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.