Building a Digital Defense Against Mystery Gift Scams

Welcome to the Oregon FBI’s Tech Tuesday segment. This week: building a digital defense against mystery gift scams. 

We are getting more and more reports of this kind of scam from Oregonians through the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov). How does it work? 

You either find a website or get an online offer that promises a giant “mystery box” full of deals. Sometimes, the offer will claim that the items are returned or unclaimed packages from one of the big online retailers.

This deal may cost you $20 or $30 bucks… or, more likely, one hundred or more dollars. In return, you believe your mystery box will bring you a selection of high value items. A TV maybe? Laptop? Some expensive clothes? 

If you have hit upon a scammer, your giant box of deals may end actually up being a small box that holds some bubble wrap and a cheap pair of headphones or a selfie stick – if it shows up at all. Forget the “surprise” gift that the fraudster also promised you. 

To be fair, there are legitimate vendors out there selling subscription boxes with mystery items… and some of the giant online retailers are also providing the same let-us-surprise-you-with-something-new-and-cool shopping options. But, if you are going to put your money on the line for such a thing, at least take some steps to protect yourself. 

  • Don’t respond to offers from unsolicited texts, emails, or social media posts, and don’t click on any links.
  • Check to make sure that the site is legitimate. Do an online search for the name of the company and the words “scam” and “fraud.”
  • Look for reviews. If the reviews all use the same wording, appear to have been posted at the same time, or use bad grammar and punctuation, they could be fake. Other warning signs: the reviewer has a very common name such as John Smith and/or doesn’t use a profile picture in the review.

If you do buy a mystery box, remember you are giving that vendor your personal info and credit card number. So, beyond risking your cash on what may be a bad deal, you are also possibly setting yourself up for identity theft. 

If you believe you are the victim of an online scam, report it to FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center at [www.ic3.gov]www.ic3.gov or call your local FBI office.

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