Do you have a holiday card in your inbox from an unfamiliar source? That deep discount in your newsfeed on this season’s hottest gadgets — does the price seem too good to be true?
The FBI’s authority on internet scams suggests keeping your guard up as holiday shopping season kicks in. The Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, is the Bureau’s virtual complaint desk for people who believe they have been victimized or defrauded online. The unit, established in 2000 in the FBI’s Cyber Division, receives about 800 complaints every day through its website, www.ic3.gov.
“The scams that we get all year long are the same scams that happen around the holiday season,” said Donna Gregory, head of the IC3 unit, which is based in West Virginia. “It’s just that people are more apt to maybe fall for them during the holidays — especially for non-delivery scams or clicking on links for greeting cards that are actually malware.”
Non-delivery scams — ordering and paying for goods or services online that are not delivered —were by far the most prolific complaint in 2016, accounting for 81,029 victims and $138 million in losses, according to the IC3’s most recent annual report. Business e-mail compromise scams —which trick company representatives into wiring money to fraudsters — and romance scams accounted for the biggest financial losses last year: more than $579 million, according to a FBI release.
The IC3 is staffed with special agents, technical experts and analysts who look for patterns and trends in complaints by consumers and businesses. Some, but not all, complaints are referred to law enforcement agencies for investigation, the FBI says.
“We’re looking at the complaint for other potential victims,” said Gregory, “We might find that the same email address is being used in 15 other complaints. And then we can start seeing a pattern and put information together.”
Gregory said social media platforms are being used more often to advance online schemes, given their access to networks and freely shared personal information. Social media played a role in more than $66 million in losses last year.
While victims reported more than $1.3 billion in losses last year to IC3, the problem is believed to be much larger, since only about 15 percent of fraud victims report the crimes to law enforcement, according to FBI estimates.
If you think you might be the victim of Internet fraud, go to www.ic3.gov to file a complaint. If you think that letter from the Nigerian prince is going to make your holiday dreams come true, think again.