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Experts Warn Against Cyber Crime Spike in December

Consumer advocates and police are urging vigilance this holiday shopping season against cyber crimes like fraud and identity theft, reports of which have skyrocketed the past 20 years with an expected rise through December.

cyber crime
(TNS) — Consumer advocates and police are urging vigilance this holiday shopping season against crimes like fraud and identity theft, reports of which have skyrocketed the past 20 years with the cyber variety expected to rise through December.

An analysis by the credit reporting agency TransUnion last week cited a 12% suspected increase over last year in digital fraud during the "Cyber Five" shopping period from Nov. 23-27.

Popular targets a year ago were victimized in the multibillion-dollar criminal industry by imposter scams, online shopping and credit card fraud, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Meanwhile, the top scams listed by the Better Business Bureau this time of year involve many linked to digital or social media.

While TransUnion and the BBB work with law enforcement, consumers seeking the best deals can often be victimized by online transactions, according to Detective Robert Bell, vice president of the Southwest Ohio Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.

"And some of the sites could be fraudulent," Bell, a West Carrollton police detective, said in an email. "The use of credit cards at retailers becomes a risk when skimmers are covertly installed on (points of sale terminals), the retailer's database becoming compromised, and credit card numbers are then stolen and quickly accessed for large purchases and gift cards."

From 2001-2021, the reported number of frauds, identity thefts and similar crimes went from 325,519 to nearly 6 million annually, data shows.

The FTC cited a cyber investigative tool — Consumer Sentinel Network — in reporting fraud losses last year nearing $8.8 billion, up from $6.1 billion from the year prior.

Through Nov. 23, the suspected e-commerce fraud in the U.S. was up 4% for the year, up a half point from all of 2022, according to TransUnion.

Losses through social media platforms totaled $1.2 billion in 2022, although phone scams yielded the highest reported loss per person with a median of $1,400, according to the FTC.

While it is not a digital fraud trend, Bell said online shoppers are often victimized by so-called "porch pirates" stealing packages delivered to a location and placed by the door.

That type of theft is included in an ongoing Kettering Police Department Facebook crime prevention campaign running through December's first 12 days, said Patrolwoman Cynthia James, a KPD spokeswoman. The project features a different crime each day, including fraud, she said.

The campaign aims to help prevent crime and is a form of community outreach, James said.

"Putting those together and doing this over social media to get more people's attention, I think overall will help (cut) our crime rates when it comes to this because social media is huge these days," she added.

Another issue consumers should guard against is "smishing," commonly text messages that purport to be from a valid company but are attempts to steal personal information, according to Amanda Malusky Krauss, president of the regional Ohio fraud examiners chapter.

One form of it is a message stating that a package delivery has failed, she said in an email.

"If you receive (one) about shopping or banking, especially an unexpected one, delete the text and do not click on any links or call any associated phone number," Malusky Krauss said.

Instead, use known legitimate information for the associated company and independently determine whether there is an issue to resolve, she added.

The BBB urges consumers to "always exercise caution with social media ads promoting discounted items, holiday events, job opportunities, and donation requests, as well as direct messages from strangers."

"If you are asked to make a payment or donation by wire transfer, through a third party, or by prepaid debit or gift card, treat it as a red flag," according to the bureau.



The Better Business Bureau has compiled its list of the top 12 scams of Christmas.

1. Misleading social media ads

2. Social media gift exchanges

3. Holiday apps

4. Fake texts that say you've been hacked

5. Free gift cards

6. Temporary holiday jobs

7. Look-alike websites

8. Fake charities

9. Fake shipping notifications

10. Advent calendars

11. Top holiday wish list items

12. Puppy scams.

© 2023 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.