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Attorney General and local cyber security expert offer tips to avoid falling for online scams this holiday season

Experts offer tips on how to avoid online scams this holiday season
Published: Dec. 13, 2021 at 3:56 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The holiday season is usually a time for family and friends to get together, but it’s also a busy season for scammers looking to snatch up your personal information and take your hard-earned cash. Over the years scammers have used technology to steal from unsuspecting victims, so Attorney General Josh Stein is encouraging people to stay vigilant this holiday season.

Online shopping is an easy and convenient way for people to shop, especially during the pandemic — but it’s also an easy and convenient way for scammers to take advantage of you.

“Watch out for fake websites or apps that closely resemble a business or brand you are familiar with. Double-check the URL by looking for a lock icon and by making sure it starts with “https:”. Verify that you are on a trusted and secure Wi-Fi network. While it may be easy to click the “Buy” button from your phone or laptop, inputting your credit card information over public Wi-Fi could increase your chances of falling victim to scammers,” Stein said.

Scams originating on social media are also on the rise, according to the Federal Trade Commission; online scams originating from social media are the majority now.

“Online shopping topped the list of complaints from consumers who reported a scam to the FTC that originated on social media. Of these consumers, many were responding to an ad they saw on social media and reported that the item they ordered never arrived. Most of those consumers (94 percent) who identified the social media service in their complaint cited Facebook or Instagram as the platform they used,” according to the FTC.

There are steps that people can take to protect themselves against online scams that start with an ad.

“Before you buy based on an ad or post, check out the company. Type its name in a search engine with words like “scam” or “complaint,” according to the FTC.

Stein suggests shopping through well-known retailers and starting off at their official site as opposed to clicking on links originating from a third party.

“Be very wary. Always better to go through a legitimate retailer that you know and originate on their website because it’s really easy for criminals to pretend that they are Target, or Walmart, or Amazon — and in fact, they are just stealing your money,” he said.

As for payment methods, Stein says it’s best for people to use credit cards.

“Do not pay in gift cards, that is a sure-fire sign that you are dealing with a criminal. I don’t recommend using your debit card — because once that money is out of your account it is very difficult to ever get it back — because if you deal with a vendor who refuses to send you what you bought, then you can’t challenge payment and get it refunded,” he said.

David Usher is the President of CMIT Solutions, a cybersecurity company in Wilmington. He echoed some of Stein’s suggestions when it comes to avoiding pitfalls with fake social media ads.

“What we recommend is that you go to the website yourself, so if you have an ad or an offer you should be able to type in the address yourself and go and find the same ad that way. We really recommend people not to click on links, if you’ve got to click on a link at least hover over it — when you hover over it, it will show you the address,” he said.

Also, Usher said it should be up to customers to take some steps to validate vendors before placing any orders off an ad found online.

“You should be able to validate that vendor — that merchant — somewhere else because all merchants want to be found. So if the only place you’re seeing the ad is your Facebook or Instagram, or whatever app you are in, and you can’t find that merchant anywhere else, that should be a red flag,” he said.

Tips to stay safe when shopping online:

  • Shop from known vendors
  • Don’t click on links you don’t recognize
  • Use two-factor authentication
  • If it looks too good to be true, it probably is
  • Don’t enter personal information into websites you don’t know

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