- The Washington Times
Thursday, December 1, 2022

Text messages threatening to delete your Amazon account for “suspicious activity” unless you verify personal information within 48 hours are among this season’s sneakiest online holiday scams, authorities warn.

The ease and popularity of shopping online with smartphones during the coronavirus pandemic have driven an explosion in robocall, robotext, email and marketplace scams aimed at stealing Americans’ financial information, experts say.

The anti-spam and text-blocking app RoboKiller estimates that an uptick in robotexts will drive holiday-related phone scams to a high of 5.5 billion messages this season, up from 5 billion last year.

“Brand imposter scams” posing as messages from retailers are fueling much of the spike, according to RoboKiller Vice President Giulia Porter.

“Scammers are designing robocall and text scams posing as real brands consumers are likely engaging with this holiday season to increase the likelihood they’ll fall victim,” Ms. Porter said in an email.

U.S. consumers reported an average loss of $1,200 per robocall scam and $900 to $1,000 per robotext scam at the end of last quarter, according to the most recent information from the Federal Trade Commission.

The scam messages spoof retailers’ phone numbers and logos, but spelling and grammar mistakes often give them away. For example, the Amazon scam text states: “Recovery your account immediately by click Iink beIow.”

Scammers want retail account and payment information to set up new credit card accounts and lock victims out of their bank accounts, fraud investigators say.

“The fraudsters want to break into your bank account, savings, credit cards, retail accounts, pretty much anything they can get their hands on,” said Mark D. Solomon, vice president of the International Association of Financial Crimes Investigators, a California-based nonprofit. “It’s not just about intercepting payments but about creating new accounts with your information.”

The fraud schemes eventually lock victims out of their smartphones, he added.

“Taking over your smartphone to get the information stored on it is a key goal,” Mr. Solomon said. “Once the fraudsters get enough information, they can swap the SIM card or spoof your phone number to make calls to businesses and banks in your name.”

Two of the most prevalent online scams this holiday season are nondelivery and nonpayment, according to the FBI. In nondelivery scams, shoppers never receive the goods or services they paid for online. In nonpayment schemes, scammers never pay for the goods or services you ship to them.

The FBI has urged online shoppers to check website URLs for “https” in the addresses, look up feedback on unfamiliar companies before ordering, avoid “authorized dealers” from other countries and never wire money directly to a seller.

“And remember: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” the FBI says in an online statement.

According to the latest Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) report, nonpayment or nondelivery scams have cost Americans more than $337 million in 2021. Credit card frauds have cost victims another $173 million in losses.

Digital holiday scams include fake romantic profiles asking lonely singles for financial help on dating apps, said Nev Schulman, executive producer and host of MTV’s “Catfish.”

“As technology advances and online dating continues to be a popular way people first meet one another, it’s more important than ever to take a step back and evaluate why someone is pressuring you to give them something, especially money,” said Mr. Schulman, whose reality TV series focuses on romance scams.

Other scams include auction frauds, in which an auction website misrepresents a product, and scammers who pose as charities.

In an alert issued Tuesday, the IRS advised consumers to donate directly to charity websites, avoiding “urgent” emails or phone calls. Scammers easily spoof the phone numbers and logos of charities, the agency warned.

• Editor’s note: Mark D. Solomon of the International Association of Financial Crimes Investigators is the brother of a former editor in chief at The Washington Times.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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