HARRISBURG — According to the Federal Trade Commission, over 4.7 million people in the U.S. were victims of identity theft or fraud in 2020.

In response, the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities and the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) are reminding residents to be extra cautious against fraud and scams associated with holiday shopping.

“Every year, we hear reports of consumers conned by fraudsters using sophisticated methods and manipulation to steal holiday joy and money,” said Richard Vague, Secretary of Banking and Securities. “There’s a certain mythology that scams only happen to the elderly or the young, but anyone can get caught up in the tale spun by a scammer.”

Five common scams victims encounter include:

  1. Hacked Account Scam – A scammer may use technology to make it seem like your financial institution is calling you to inform you that your card or account have been compromised. They may have details like the last four numbers of your card or listing of recent purchases. This is an attempt to establish credibility and create an urgency to prevent additional fraudulent activity, while seeking additional sensitive financial information. Your financial institution will not call you unsolicited and ask for details such as your Social Security number, account or credit card numbers, or password.
  2. Unbelievable Price on Hard-to-Find Items – Everyone enjoys a bargain, but if the item you’re looking to purchase is showing for significantly less than compared to every major retailer, it is likely fraudulent. The scammer will try to sell you a plausible, but ultimately fictional, reason for the price difference. Fraudsters will tell you there are multiple people interested, but they’ll let you buy it if you send payment immediately. Once you send the money, you’ll receive bogus shipping information or never hear from them. Always contact your financial institution directly using the phone number from your statement, bank card, or their website to verify any calls from the institution.  
  3. Bank Deposit Holiday Hustles – Having your checking or savings account information used for depositing mystery shopper checks or other deposits whose funds you don’t know the source of can lead to financial loss and difficulty reestablishing banking services. When you endorse or sign a check, you are vouching for the legitimacy of those funds being available. A scam artist may send you a check for an amount to buy certain items to send somewhere, allowing you to keep a portion for yourself. If that check or funds are fraudulent, you will be liable for the entire balance.  
  4. Copycat Websites – Identity theft can occur despite taking precautions. Consumers can help reduce the chance of having their personal or financial information stolen by practicing safe online shopping. Malicious emails can appear to be from legitimate retail stores. Do not click on these links. Instead, bookmark the URL for your favorite stores to ensure you are access the appropriate site. If purchasing items online, be sure to monitor your accounts after for fraudulent or unauthorized charges.
  5. Gift Cards – Gift cards can be a versatile and practical holiday gift but remember that no government agency will ever ask you to pay a fine, fee, or penalty with a gift card. If you receive a call telling you to pay a debt or some other cost via gift card, that is a red flag of a scam. Hang up immediately. Once a scammer has the codes and pins from a gift card, it is extremely difficult to recover any funds.  

“Unfortunately, every holiday season, nefarious actors take advantage of consumers,” warned Major Jeremy Richard, Director of the PSP Bureau of Criminal Investigation. “The Pennsylvania State Police work closely with local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to investigate their crimes; nevertheless; their illicit scams result in major losses which sometimes can’t be recouped. It is imperative consumers recognize the signs of a scam and take steps to prevent them from happening. It is also very important to monitor the actions of elder relatives, neighbors and friends as they often are specifically targeted by these scam actors.”

Five strategies that can help Pennsylvanians protect themselves from these scams and others include: 

  • Monitor Your Accounts. Frequently check your financial accounts for any debits or withdrawals you do not recognize. 
  • Never follow links in unsolicited emails. Check that any emails you receive are from a correct email address. 
  • Type the website directly into your browser. Pay attention to your spelling and double check that it is a U.S. domain – like dot-com rather than an international domain – before entering any sensitive information.
  • Be wary of any transaction involving checks. Never send anything via Western Union or prepaid cards.
  • When in doubt, hang up. Never provide credit card info as part of an unsolicited phone call and think twice if you’re being pressured to donate “right now.” 

Pennsylvanians who have fallen victim to a scam can contact their financial institution and local police department through non-emergency channels. Additionally, victims can file a complaint with the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center HERE.

Anyone can contact DoBS at 1-800-PA-BANKS or 1-800-722-2657 to ask questions or file complaints about financial transactions, companies, or products. 

In addition, the free, See Something, Send Something smartphone application enables people to report suspicious activity. Consumers are encouraged to capture photographs, screenshots, and other information and send directly to the PSP. Tips can also be sent to tips@pa.gov

To learn more, click HERE.

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