Photo credit: Mark Cameron
Photo credit: Mark Cameron

As cofounder of the Bipartisan Congressional Task Force to Combat Identity Theft and Fraud, folks often ask me about the many different ways scammers and fraudsters prey on folks in our Iowa communities. I tell them these criminals use increasingly complex and ever evolving tactics, attempting to steal the personal and financial information of unsuspecting Americans all over the country.

The best way to stay protected from these threats is to stay informed, and as the holiday season is upon us, this idea especially rings true. Reports of scammers and fraudsters using fake retail apps and fake websites to target folks shopping for gifts and more is an important reminder anyone can be a target. Smart shopping can keep you from falling victim to these unfortunate crimes.

When shopping for your loved ones on the internet, always pay close attention to the URL, or the web address, of the website you’re visiting. Be especially mindful of suspicious or misleading domain names. While Younkers-store.3a5.com may appear to direct you to Younkers’ official website, their real website of the department store is Younkers.com. Long and hyphenated names with numbers in them are typically misleading and home to illegitimate online vendors.

What’s more, it’s important to take extra precautions when seeking a great deal from an online outlet or megastore, especially if the name is unfamiliar. Mega-bags-for-less.biz may seem like a prime place to score an item marked well below retail value, but a better practice is to stick with trusted websites of stores or e-commerce companies you recognize. Pay attention to shoddy website designs, unclear refund policies, nonexistent or unclear company contact information, and anything that gives you pause. A safe assumption: If a deal is too good to be true, it probably is.

If you’re hoping to shop using apps on your smart phone, make sure you’re choosing a retailer’s legitimate app, not one of the numerous counterfeit ones appearing in recent months and weeks. Attempting to make a purchase with a fake app can share your personal or financial information with bad actors and leave you picking up the pieces. If you choose to do business through an app, double check the app is real, by separately visiting the retailer’s official website to verify its existence, or reading through the app store for questionable reviews and comments. Pay close attention to incorrect names or misspellings, because that is a warning sign you should do your business elsewhere.

If you believe you’re perusing a fake website or app, or if you believe you are a victim of fraud, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on their website (https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#&panel1-6) without delay. If you’ve come across a fake app on your smart phone, you can report it through the app store. If necessary, contact your bank to report fraudulent charges and closely monitor your accounts. Remember, my staff and I are always ready and willing to help, and point you in the direction of services and resources you may need.

As you go forth this holiday season, shop smartly and safely, and keep your pocketbooks and personal information out of the hands of criminals hoping to capitalize on unsuspecting victims. Sidestep the headache and heartbreak of financial fraud and identity theft from holiday shopping, and instead enjoy your time making holiday memories with family and friends.

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