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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - The FBI seal is shown at a press conference in Cincinnati on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. (Albert Cesare/The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP)

With more online shopping this holiday season, shoppers may be in more danger of holiday scams, according to the FBI Little Rock office.

With covid-19 cases rising, spokesmen with the agency expect more online shopping and an equal rise in scams from online shopping.

FBI Little Rock spokeswoman Jessica Franklin said shoppers should be looking for deals that may be too good to be true.

"More people are going to be shopping online this holiday season and scammers are going to take advantage of that," Franklin said. "We just want people to remain vigilant while shopping online and to remain mindful of these scams and to take as many safe steps that they can to make sure that they have a scam-free holiday season."

Online shoppers should avoid unknown and disreputable websites when they can, according to Franklin.

"If you've never heard of the website or you've never shopped from it before, do your research before you make a purchase from that site," Franklin said. "Ask your friends and family. Go online [and] read reviews. If the website has negative reviews or no reviews at all, I definitely recommend probably staying off that site."

During the holiday season, many shoppers are looking for items that may not be found easily in stores or through first party seller, such as the Sony PlayStation 5, which was released on Nov. 12 and is currently sold out, according to the company.

FBI spokesman Connor Hagan suggested being skeptical of all sellers online selling sought-after items.

"You have the guys who resell it. You have the guys who make some money off it, and it's legitimate," Hagan said. "They're pretty rare is my understanding. I don't think we've gotten calls about PS5s yet, but we've certainly seen an increase in the past few years of scams of a whole variety."

Another concern online shoppers should pay attention to, according to Hagan, is to ensure the business or charity with whom they are interacting with is the legitimate website of the organization.

"There are guys that have spoofed websites that have made it look like you're giving to a legitimate charity or legitimate company, and in reality, the intent behind that is to defraud someone," Hagan said.

Many shoppers will also be using apps like Facebook Marketplace to make purchases from individuals selling items in their own areas.

This could potentially be dangerous for the buyer, according to Hagan.

"In Memphis, they had some recent shootings there where people were trying to pick up Facebook Marketplace items," Hagan said. "My girlfriend purchases stuff off of Facebook Marketplace. Not much, but she's done it in the past. I would really urge people to, if there are reviews on the seller, to check that out, and, if you're going to meet somebody, meet at a police department's parking lot."

Franklin said shoppers should make sure their banking information is secure before making an online purchase and regularly check those accounts after purchases to make sure everything is correct.

Credit cards should also be utilized when possible because money transfers can be held.

"It's probably the best and safest way to make a purchase because it offers several layers of security for shoppers," Franklin said. "They can go on there and look and see what money was taken out by who and when."

Any website requiring shoppers to use gift cards or cryptocurrency should be avoided, according to Franklin.

"If a site is demanding that you pay with gift cards or bitcoin or wire transfers, I would not make a purchase from that site," Franklin said.

Hagan said if a shopper is going to make a purchase from a questionable vendor, avoid using payment methods without a good recovery system.

"Don't do cash. Don't do Venmo. Don't do PayPal if you're looking to do a risky transaction," Hagan said. "Don't make the risky transaction, but, if you're going to use anything, use your credit card."

The final suggestion Franklin had was to not give out your personal information when making a purchase.

"Don't ever give out your date of birth, your social security number, your billing addresses to anybody that you do not know," Franklin said. "Do not enter that information into giveaways from unrecognizable accounts or sites. Scammers can use that information and get into all of your financial accounts and create accounts under your name with your information."

The holiday season brings a season of giving not just to family but also to charities who do well during the holidays.

Franklin, who has experience working with nonprofits, said scammers are a threat in this area, as well.

"I used to work at a nonprofit before I worked at the FBI so I know how important this time is, and I just recommend, before you donate to a charity, please verify that they have a certified taxpayer identification number," Franklin said. "That kind of legitimized a nonprofit organization and typically you can find that by calling the organization directly or visiting their website."

Scammers may attempt to use both the covid-19 pandemic and the giving nature of the season to trick charitable people.

"Covid scams are still going. They're still hitting hard," Hagan said. "Combining with holiday scams is definitely an angle that scammers are going to try to do this year."

Franklin said she does not want to scare anyone out of giving this year. Some red flags that could pop up may be legitimate, and she suggested calling the organization to make sure it is secure.

"Sometimes when you go to a charity's website and you click 'Donate Now,' you will be directed through their online giving portal," Franklin said. "That would be a red flag in my mind. You are being redirected to an unfamiliar website, but if that happens call that organization directly."


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