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Real victims' warning: Protect your holiday purchases

Scammers out in full force especially with pandemic
Protect your holiday purchases because scammers are out in full force.
Posted at 4:32 PM, Nov 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-24 19:44:47-05

CLEVELAND — People have already started their holiday shopping and that means scammers have, too. We have valuable information about how to avoid becoming the criminals’ next target.

“Everything you see on the internet is not what it appears,” said Maurice Crayton from Cleveland. He told us he got an email claiming to be from Amazon about a recent order. He called what he thought was the company. A man said he was from Amazon and gave Crayton instructions.

“‘Go get a get me a card with about 50 bucks on it. Send it in to us,’” Crayton said, describing the conversation. He was skeptical, however, he did it. Then, the guy asked for more.

“He said, ‘Oh, well, the server didn’t pick them up. So, we’re going to have to do this all over again,” Crayton said. He got another card. This time it was for $200. He gave the card’s numbers to the fake Amazon employee. The guy said that card didn’t work. “He said, 'You send us another $500, we’re going to send you a thousand dollars,'” Crayton told us. “I said, ‘You know what? Bye.”

According to real-time reporting on fraud, the Federal Trade Commission shows online shopping scams are the number one fraud happening today in the U.S. with customers losing millions of dollars. In Ohio, shopping scams are a close second.

“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” said Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost during a recent interview. He’s seen what the holidays can bring as more scammers try to contact you. “Anytime somebody’s initiating a call or a text or an email to you, that should be a red flag, particularly if you’re not expecting it,” said Yost.

He said we all need to protect our personal information when making purchases. “There’s no reason why, if you buying something off an online merchant, that they need your social security number or your date of birth,” he told us.

And, it is the season for giving to charities, but Yost said be careful about organizations wanting you to donate gift cards. “No reputable charity asks for donations of gift cards,” said Yost. “You might as well be sending $100 bills through the mail.”

Plus, we’ve found out imposter scams are running rampant. “Very popular right now are impersonators of big brand names,” said President & CEO of the Better Business Bureau Serving Greater Cleveland Sue McConnell. She told us in addition to Crayton’s case with an Amazon imposter, people are posing as Apple employees as well. “They’re telling you there’s an issue with a data breach, a security breach on your Apple account,” said McConnell.

She told us about one man who was scammed out of a $700 gift card from Target, but the crooks wanted even more. “And the scammer said well this will only take care of 10 of the data breaches…and wanted him to go out and get more gift cards,” McConnell said.

She told us how criminals pay attention to the news trying to capitalize on people’s fears. “Especially something like (coronavirus) that causes people to be anxious, fearful, isolated,” McConnell said.

“I was looking for anything…either one of them, Lysol, Clorox, whatever,” said Shamone Panter from Elyria. “I saw a link that said, ‘Oh, we have some wipes,’” she recalled.

She thought she found a deal.

“I am typically one of those people who is more skeptical and I wasn’t skeptical… which kind of came back and burned me,” said Panter.

Federal Trade Commission Attorney Fil de Banate said Panter fell for one of 25 sites claiming to sell wipes, Lysol, and Clorox products. Those sites have been closed by the FTC. “Now we have a court order that authorizes us to shut down these websites, shut down the advertising accounts and shut down the payment methods,” said de Banate.

He knows there are more fake sites out there and more will pop up trying to scam shoppers, in general, this holiday season.

Some of the best advice? When you get an email, text or phone call, don’t panic. Just tell the person on the other line that you’ll get back to them. Then, go online, find the real phone number to the business, and find out what’s really going on.

Crayton wishes he had done that. Now, he’s just trying to help you.

“I can prevent someone from going through the same thing I went through,” said Crayton. “Because they might be out way more money than 250 bucks.”

Yost said it’s important to report scams to his office and other agencies even if you didn’t lose money.

“If we have 10 reports of the same scam and we can put all of that information together, it puts us in a better position to actually be able to find the people and do something about it,” he told us.

“Those kinds of complaints, those are the many, many dots we as the investigators can connect,” said de Banate.

Happy shopping and be careful!

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