FBI warns of top holiday season scams

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The FBI has put out their warning about the most popular schemes and scams in the 2019 holiday season.

More people are spending and shopping right now, which means more scammers are preying on you, your money and your privacy.

The I-Team found the holiday scams putting you and your gifts under the tree at risk.

"'Tis the season to scam; it is the holiday season as well for scammers," said FBI Special Agent Siobhan Johnson.

What are the worst right now?

"The worst ones we are seeing are online retailers that are not legitimate or not sending out the goods," Johnson said.

Online shopping scams are on the rise and gifts ordered from sham sites never arrive. Many questionable websites could advertise on social media.

"If a website has a lot of misspellings, it doesn't look quite right or act quite right those, are red flags," Johnson said. "It's a warning sign."

Consumers should make sure they're shopping on secure websites, which use an https at the beginning of their URL instead of just http.

"If you are not making sure it is secure first, https as opposed to http, it is an issue," Johnson explained. "Your information can be intercepted and compromised as well."

The FBI gets about 1,000 complaints a day regarding this type of financial fraud, as well as gift card scams. Even when you buy one of a store rack, you may find you have a zero balance.

"So what you didn't do was you didn't go to the back of the rack and pull something from the back," said Johnson. "You didn't check to make sure that the number hadn't been scratched off and perhaps been replaced with another sticker. You didn't examine the card to make sure that it looked as though it had just come from the factory."

The FBI said criminals can copy codes on gift cards or even duplicate magnetic stripes and steal your money.

"Scammers have been monitoring that gift card and as soon as they see money is on that card, they steal all of the cash that's on it. So when you go to use it, it's empty," Johnson explained.

Finally, beware of smart device hacks. Hackers can get into smart TVs, speakers, toys, even security cameras to put your privacy in danger.

First, make sure your home wifi requires a strong password. Then secure the specific device which uses your wifi.

"Change your passwords regularly. You don't always know when you've been compromised," warned Johnson.

If you are buying smart devices, you may want to consider turning off the microphones when you're not using them. And to protect you from hacked cameras, put a piece of opaque tape over it when it's not in use.

If you are a victim of any of these scams, reach out to your local law enforcement and call the FBI. You can also file a report with the FBI online at www.IC3.gov.
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