FBI issues warning about holiday scams

If you’re doing your holiday shopping online this year, the FBI’s Washington field office is warning you to be wary of digital Grinches.

COVID-19 concerns have led more people than ever to do their shopping online – and that’s creating opportunities for scammers.

READ MORE: FBI warns of scams during coronavirus pandemic

"Scammers don't take holidays off from swindling unsuspecting shoppers,” said Steven M. D’Antuono, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office. “There are a variety of ways that fraudsters try to scam you during the holiday season, including through online shopping scams. As more people shop online this year, the FBI is asking the public to know the telltale signs of these scams and protect yourself and your financial information.”

If you’re targeted by a scam, you can notify the FBI by clicking here.

The basic rule of thumb is, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

READ MORE: Romance scams costing Americans millions of dollars per year, FBI says

Although scammers are constantly cooking up new schemes to take away your money, here are some common ones to look out for:

Online shopping scammers will often offer deals that you simply can’t believe via phishing emails or advertisements – they may offer brand-name merchandise at extremely low prices, or offer gift cards as an incentive. You should steer clear of these offers – and be very wary of anything that might tip you off. 

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Social media scams are also increasingly popular – especially those that offer vouchers or gift cards. These can appear to be holiday promotions or contests. Sometimes, they’ll look like surveys, and they’re designed to gather your personal information. If you click on an add on social media, be sure to check out the website before turning over any personal information.

Work-from-home scams are becoming more and more common. And scammers are targeting people who might want to work from home. They offer convenience as a lure, but their intentions are fraudulent.

Gift-card scammers may ask consumers to purchase gift cards for them. In these cases, the victims may receive either a spoofed email, a spoofed phone call, or a spoofed text from a person in authority – like police – asking them to buy gift cards for personal or business reasons.

Charity scams are particularly prevalent around disasters – but the FBI says it has also seen an uptick during the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re also popular around the holiday season. These scammers may operate through cold calls, email campaigns, crowdfunding platforms or social media accounts and websites.



- Do your homework on the retailer/website/person to ensure legitimacy. 

- Conduct a business inquiry of the online retailer on the Better Business Bureau’s website (www.bbb.org).  

- Check other websites regarding the company for reviews and complaints. 

- Check the contact details of the website on the “Contact Us” page, specifically the address, email, and phone number, to confirm whether the retailer is legitimate. 

- Be wary of online retailers offering goods at significantly discounted prices.  

- Be wary of online retailers who use a free email service instead of a company email address. 

- Don’t judge a company by their website; flashy websites can be set up and taken down quickly.

- Beware of purchases or services that require payment with a gift card.

- Beware of providing credit card information when requested through unsolicited emails. 

- Do not click on links contained within an unsolicited email or respond to them.  

- Check credit card statements routinely. If possible, set up credit card transaction auto alerts, or check balance after every online purchase. It is important to check statements after the holiday season, as many fraudulent charges can show up even several weeks later. 

- Avoid filling out forms contained in email messages that ask for personal information. 

- Be cautious of emails claiming to contain pictures in attached files, as the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders. Scan all attachments for viruses if possible. 

- Verify requests for personal information from any business or financial institution by contacting them using the main contact information on their official website.

- Secure credit card accounts, even rewards accounts, with strong passwords. Change passwords and check accounts routinely. 

- Make charitable contributions directly, rather than through an intermediary, and pay via credit card or check; avoid cash donations, if possible. 

- Beware of organizations with copycat names similar to reputable charities; most legitimate charity websites use .org (NOT .com). 

- Don’t be a money mule; it’s illegal! 


If you are a victim of an online scam, the FBI recommends taking the following actions: 

- Report the activity to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov, regardless of dollar loss. Provide all relevant information in the complaint. 

- Contact your financial institution immediately upon discovering any fraudulent or suspicious activity and direct them to stop or reverse the transactions. 

- Ask your financial institution to contact the corresponding financial institution where the fraudulent or suspicious transfer was sent.