FBI warns of holiday scams as Western Pa. victims cheated out of $1M in 2019 | TribLIVE.com

FBI warns of holiday scams as Western Pa. victims cheated out of $1M in 2019

Natasha Lindstrom
People shop at Macy’s department store during Black Friday shopping, Friday Nov. 29, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Tribune-Review file photo
The FBI office on East Carson Street in Pittsburgh’s South Side.
Photo courtesy of the FBI
FBI Pittsburgh Assistant Special Agent in Charge Chad Yarbrough talks with reporters about how to avoid common scams Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, at the FBI’s office on the city’s South Side.

Don’t be fooled this holiday season by scammers posing as charities or fly-by-night websites offering surprisingly steep discounts on popular gifts, FBI officials in Pittsburgh warned Tuesday.

“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” Chad Yarbrough, FBI Pittsburgh assistant special agent in charge, said at the FBI’s office on East Carson Street in the city’s South Side.

Between January and November of this year, about 500 people from Western Pennsylvania reported being targeted in online scams that cheated them out of a combined $1 million, FBI data show. The frequency of scams reported tends to spike in the months leading up to Christmas, Yarbrough said.

“So often around this time of year, we see victims that fall prey to the scammers because of the hustle and bustle and quick transactions that everyone is trying to get completed,” he said.

Criminals continue to be aggressive and creative in plots designed to steal money and personal information from unsuspecting consumers, Yarbrough said. The two most common schemes involve what the FBI calls non-delivery and non-payment scams.

Non-delivery scams are when buyers pay for goods or services online but never receive them. A non-payment scam is when people send goods in exchange for money but never get paid what they were promised.

Across the U.S., more than 65,000 people were victims of such scams last year, the FBI reported. Their collective loss totaled more than $184 million.

Other types of scams to be wary of include someone posing as a charity and asking by phone or email for a person to send gift cards or prepaid Visa cards. Some scams involve complex data-mining schemes that use information available online to pose as an employer or family member in need. Scammers often target the elderly, Yarbrough said.

The perpetrators can be hard to catch.

“Most of the time, these fraudsters are overseas,” Yarbrough said. “Often times, we see websites pop up overnight.”

Local agents collaborate with federal and international agencies to track them down, but doing so can be a difficult and lengthy process.

The public can take steps to help expedite such investigations.

Officials ask anyone who is the target of a scam or suspected scam to report it to FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov.

Agents nationwide use the digital repository of information to identify and build cases, Yarbrough said.

It’s up to consumers to do their homework and be critical about the websites they use to shop and donate, Yarbrough said.

Consumers should avoid clicking links in emails and instead go directly to an organization or retailer’s website. If a company sounds unfamiliar or something feels off, they should run a check with the Better Business Bureau and read reviews and comments before sending any financial information such as credit card numbers, Yarbrough said.

People should avoid making purchases via money or wire transfers, prepaid cards or bank-to-bank account transfers. The FBI warned that money sent in these ways is almost impossible to recover, and victims are often left with no recourse.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter .

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.