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FBI issues warning for online shoppers

Authorities say more people are being directed to fraudulent websites via social media and online search engines while shopping for popular items.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The FBI is issuing a warning about new scams popping up due to an increase in online shopping at home.  Authorities say more people are sharing private information and aren't being as careful about protecting their personal information, especially when ordering things like face masks and face shields, which typically come from China. 

 “That’s gold to be able to sell that on the black market,” said Tom Bartholomy from the Charlotte Better Business Bureau. The BBB, along with the FBI, are tracking these habits and scams. And say some the problem is the shopper's own doing. 

“People get lost, they just keep searching and clicking and after a while, they are still looking for that item, but they actually have no idea where they are at,” said Bartholomy.  

Every time a shopper clicks around and end up at a new site, the “URL” is likely to change which means shoppers can end up on sites that aren't legit.

Bartholomy said there's one big clue that can help determine if a site is safe to buy from. “I tell people all the time, to look for that little padlock up in the URL, if you see it, it means you are on a secure sight." 

RELATED: BBB warning of fake “free trial” scams surfacing during coronavirus crisis

The FBI sent out this warning: An increasing number of victims are being directed to fraudulent websites via social media platforms and popular online search engines.

METHODS

According to complaints received by the FBI, an increasing number of victims have not received items they purchased from websites offering low prices on items such as gym equipment, small appliances, tools and furniture. Victims reported they were led to these websites via ads on social media platforms or while searching for specific items on online search engines’ “shopping” pages. Victims purchased items from these websites because prices were consistently lower than those offered by other online retail stores. Complainants indicated the following:

  • Disposable face masks shipped from China were received regardless of what was ordered.
  • Payment was made using an online money transfer service.
  • The retail websites provided valid but unassociated U.S. addresses and telephone numbers under a “Contact Us” link, misleading victims to believe the retailer was located within the U.S.
  • Many of the websites used content copied from legitimate sites; in addition, the same unassociated addresses and telephone numbers were listed for multiple retailers.

Some victims who complained to the vendor about their shipments were offered partial reimbursement and told to keep the face masks as compensation. Others were told to return the items to China in order to be reimbursed, which would result in the victim paying high postage fees, or agree to a partial reimbursement of the product ordered without returning the items received. All attempts made by the victims to be fully reimbursed, or receive the actual items ordered, were unsuccessful.

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INDICATORS

Reported indicators of the fake websites included the following:

  • Instead of .com, the fraudulent websites used the Internet top-level domains (TLD) “.club” and “.top.”
  • Websites offered merchandise at significantly discounted prices.
  • Uniform Resource Locator (URL) or web addresses were registered recently (within the last six months).
  • Websites used content copied from legitimate sites and often shared the same contact information.
  • The websites were advertised on social media.
  • Criminal actors utilized a private domain registration service to avoid personal information being published in the Who is Public Internet Directory.

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