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December 8, 2015Washington, DC, United StatesFinancial Crimes, Intellectual Property Rights and Commercial Fraud

Avoiding scams this holiday season

The holiday shopping season is in full swing.  With Black Friday and Cyber Monday having come and gone, Christmas Day is now less than three weeks away.

As millions of shoppers are making their lists and checking them twice, so are those looking to take advantage of the holiday rush, preying on the naiveté of consumers who are looking to score a deal and avoid the stress of waiting until the last minute to find that perfect gift.

“Web-based shopping starts to take off this time of the year,” said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) New York Supervisory Special Agent Brian Herbert.  “It’s very easy and convenient for people to get their shopping done online, but often, that great deal can end up being a counterfeit product.”

According to Herbert, who works with HSI New York’s El Dorado Financial Crimes Task Force, consumers must be aware at all times to avoid hoaxes and scams when shopping online.  However, during the holiday season, consumers must heighten their awareness and not fall deals that appear “too good to be true.”

“When we talk to shoppers who were duped, they have always truly believed that it was a good deal,” Herbert said.  “In many cases, it’s generational as older consumers are not as Internet savvy.”

HSI special agents advise consumers to make sure that companies have verified email addresses and accept credible payment options such as PayPal.  Not only are consumers at risk of being targeted by hoaxes and other scams, but when they provide personal information, they are also placing themselves at risk of identity theft.

“During the holidays, people are rushing and trying to get things done, and counterfeiters are aware of that and looking to take advantage,” Herbert said.  “You have to be aware of your surroundings whether you’re doing your shopping online, or walking the streets buying goods from vendors.”

ICE involves itself in hoax and scam prevention through its enforcement actions and by educating the public on risks.  During the holidays, HSI special agents offer the following tips to avoid buying counterfeit merchandise:

  • If the price seems too good to be true, then it probably is.
  • Buy from reputable manufacturers and stores.
  • Research online sellers before purchasing.  The comments of people who have made previous purchases may be especially helpful.
  • Don't buy anything advertised via bulk email ("SPAM”).
  • Be suspicious of websites that do not provide a toll-free contact number.
  • When submitting financial information online, verify that the website is secure and that payments are submitted to website addresses beginning with https://.

HSI targets transnational criminal organizations that manufacture, smuggle, and distribute counterfeit products worldwide in order to keep counterfeit products off U.S. streets, many of which pose a direct threat to the health and safety of all Americans. The HSI-led IPR Center is one of the U.S. government's key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. Working in close coordination with the Department of Justice Task Force on Intellectual Property, the IPR Center uses the expertise of its 23 member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions and conduct investigations related to intellectual property theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public's health and safety and the U.S. economy.