The FBI is reminding consumers to be wary of online scams, especially around the holidays.
Federal prosecutors in Tampa have filed warrants to shut five websites they say sell counterfeit goods.
The effort is part of a nationwide crackdown on 82 websites suspected of selling phony goods. (Story, -5B)
The FBI warns that identity thieves may try to gain personal information by sending e-mails and text messages indicating problems with financial accounts. Complaints about cyber fraud are on the rise. The Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, received 336,655 complaints in 2009, a 22 percent increase over the previous year. The center — a partnership of the FBI and the nonprofit National White Collar Crime Center — said the complaints involved losses totaling $559.7 million in 2009, up from $264.6 million in 2008.
Law enforcement investigated almost 44 percent of last year's complaints and roughly 26 percent the previous year, according to IC3 data. Cases are not referred to law enforcement unless there's documented harm or either the complainant or the alleged scammer lives in the United States.
To avoid being victimized by cyber fraud, the FBI recommends that you:
• Be cautious of e-mail claiming to contain pictures in attached files; the files may contain viruses. Open only attachments from known senders. Scan the attachments for viruses, if possible.
• Avoid filling out forms contained in e-mail messages that ask for personal information.
• Always compare the link in the e-mail with the link to which you are directed to determine if they match and will lead you to a legitimate site.
• Log directly onto a store's website identified in the e-mail instead of linking to it from an unsolicited e-mail. If the e-mail appears to be from your bank, credit card issuer or other company you deal with frequently, your statements or official correspondence will provide the proper contact information.
• Verify any requests for personal information by calling the business or financial institution using the phone numbers listed on a billing statement or credit card.
• Contact the actual business that supposedly sent the e-mail to verify if the e-mail is genuine.
For more on online scams, visit the FBI's E-Scams and Warnings Web page atfbi.gov/scams-safety/e-scams. For information on filing a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, visit ic3.gov.