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Cyber thieves target holiday shoppers desperate for certain items; Secret Service works to combat the problem

Supply chain issues make some merchandise hard to get
Published: Nov. 24, 2021 at 7:09 PM CST
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Cyber-security experts discuss new online scams.
Cyber-security experts discuss new online scams.(Source: WVUE)

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Cyber thieves are using tricks like low prices and claims of having hard-to-find items to lure holiday shoppers to fake retailers and steal their money. And the U.S. Secret Service is warning shoppers to be cautious and says it is working to combat the online scams.

Nam Nguyen is a cybersecurity expert.

“It seems like the supply chain shortage has increased it because people are now desperate to get the things that they want, that are having a hard time, a harder time than normal,” said Nguyen.

He said he has seen ads for websites that turned out not to be legitimate.

“I do see a lot of websites putting a lot of things if I’m on Facebook or if I’m on Instagram I see a lot of advertisements and I notice that those advertisements aren’t screened, so I would just take a peek and look at it, and I’m like oh my goodness this is really a scam,” said Nguyen.

The Better Business Bureau hears from cyber scam victims often.

“We get lots of calls about this before and after the holidays, you know, with Black Friday coming around and Cyber Monday there’s always calls and complaints,” said Cynthia Albert of the BBB.

Albert says some victims are tricked out of lots of money by cybercrooks.

“Actually a couple of days ago there was a lady that had given up $900 and hopefully she can get it back but you know these con artists don’t give a lot of information, they want to dupe, take a lot of information,” said Albert.

Nguyen says if an unknown online retailer is offering a price that seems too good to be true, trust your instincts and move on.

“Price doesn’t look right is one big telltale but another, another thing that people want to look out for is for companies that don’t take credit cards, right? They’re like, oh well you can only get this deal if you do PayPal or Venmo or Zell,” said Nguyen.

Lisa Pichon, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Secret Service’s New Orleans Field Office said in an email:

“The New Orleans Field Office of the United States Secret Service operates a robust Cyber Fraud Task Force in the State of Louisiana, we leverage our relationships with local and State law enforcement to combat cyber-enabled financial fraud and help keep consumers safe.”

And the Secret Service recommends consumers:

--Go directly to retailers’ websites and don’t click on links from online search results

--Be sure the website name is the same as the site you think you went to

--Avoid clicking on links in messages that claim that your online account information has changed and be aware that gift card scams are on the rise.

“And for goodness’ sake don’t go, like sometimes they instruct you to go to one of the drug stores or Wal-Mart to get one of the gift cards or several of the gift cards and then they kindly say to you, flip it over and give me the numbers or either take a picture, once you do that, they have your money,” said Albert.

Misspellings on websites and even emails containing ads could be a sign of a rogue company.

“A big telltale sign is the grammar is incorrect, there’s some misspellings, the images are a little weird,” said Nguyen.

And another piece of advice is to shop on websites of retailers that you are certain exists.

“Bottom line is deal with the companies that you know that are real companies that you’ve worked with before and use your credit card and not your debit card. Don’t use those off-site payments,” said Nguyen.

Albert says do your homework on unknown retailers, including getting the company’s address.

“Even if they’re online they have to have a physical address, you need that in case you have to file a complaint,” said Albert.

And she urges online scam victims to go to: bbb.org/scam tracker to document their experience which will inform others about sham retailers. She says victims’ names and addresses will not be shown on the scam tracker site.

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