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FBI urges shoppers to be wary about scams during holiday season


New Mexicans lost almost $18 million in 2019, agency says

The Daily Times staff  |  Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Federal law enforcement officials are warning New Mexico residents who are shopping online this holiday season to take precautions that will help them avoid becoming the victim of a variety of scams.

Officials at the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center said New Mexicans lost almost $18 million in 2019 to such scams, which ranged from nondelivery of items they already had paid for to phishing schemes and identity theft.

"Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people than ever are expected to shop online this year," James Langenberg, special agent in charge of the Albuquerque FBI Division, stated in a press release from the agency. "Unfortunately, that means more potential victims of holiday scams. The FBI urges consumers to be vigilant and protect themselves against criminals looking to make a quick buck."

FBI officials said shoppers should be on the lookout for scams in several forms, including online shopping schemes that offer deals that appear to be too good to be true. Shoppers are advised to avoid unfamiliar sites that offer unrealistic discounts on brand-name merchandise, especially those that feature "one-day only" promotions. Such sites are often run by scammers who con shoppers into paying for an item they will never receive and/or revealing their personal information, the agency says.

Before completing an online purchase, the FBI recommends that shoppers secure all their financial accounts with strong passwords or passphrases, and use different passwords for each financial account.

Shoppers also need to be cautious about sellers and websites that demand payment solely through gift cards, according to the FBI, or those that encourage shoppers to conduct wire transfers, which allow scammers to receive illicit funds quickly. Federal officials say using a credit card is the safest way to shop online, as they provide several layers of security against fraud.

An increase in charity-related fraud also is reported during the holidays, according to the FBI, as many people seek to make year-end donations to nonprofit organizations. Fraudulent charities often use phone calls, email campaigns and fake websites to solicit donations, so donors are advised to verify that the charity has a valid taxpayer identification number by visiting the organization's website or calling the charity directly.

New Mexico residents also are advised to avoid so-called "money mule" schemes that involve unsolicited emails promising the recipient easy money with little or no effort. FBI officials describe a money mule as someone who transfers or moves illegally acquired money on behalf of someone else.

Shoppers are advised to check their bank and credit card statements routinely, especially after completing online purchases and in the weeks after the holidays. They should never give personal information such as their date of birth, Social Security number or billing address to anyone they don't know.

Anyone who suspects they have become a victim of fraud is encouraged to immediately contact their financial institution, then call their local law enforcement agency or the FBI at 505-889-1300.

Victims of holiday scams also are encouraged to file a complaint with the FBI at www.ic3.gov.