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Watch Out for These Holiday Scams

Scam Alert

Seasons come and seasons go but scammers are here to stay.  Holiday season scams will be closely followed by winter scams, followed by Valentine’s Day scams.  Entering the month of December brings a renewed effort by scammers.  Here are two returning scams of the season. 

As temperatures dip below freezing, the number of imposter calls is rising.  Some early evening calls carry a threat from “the power company” to cut electricity to your home due to unpaid bills.  Potential victims are told to pay with gift cards from a local store and read the code numbers from the cards.  Federal agencies including the FBI and FTC report of victims whose anxiety level was sufficient to result in them complying with the demands.

The reality - Consumer protection laws clearly require a defined process for utility companies to follow prior to terminating service.  If you get one of these calls, know that it is fraudulent, hang up the phone, and report the call to the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov). 

Another winter scam offers practically free vacations at select beach or ski resorts.  All that is requested is some personal information which may include Social Security Number, driver’s license, address, phone number, and demographics (age, gender, ethnicity).  These scams may also ask for a token payment by gift card or credit card.

The reality – These are “phishing” expeditions collecting personal information that can be used or sold to commit additional fraud.  Statistically, people who are victims of this are more likely to be victimized again.  The best way to avoid being victimized is not to answer any questions and disconnect from the phone call. Note – legitimate time share and vacation companies also promote these opportunities.  If you accept one, be prepared to attend a two-hour, high-pressure sales presentation.

As with most scams, the criminal wants you caught up in emotion; that is when logic and common sense departs.  Whenever you find yourself in an emotional condition such as fear or joy, self-discipline is your ally. 

Now that the holidays are here, keep in mind  this final set of holiday scam reminders.  While there is no way to completely “scam-proof” yourself from holiday scams, there are some clear steps you can take to reduce your vulnerability.  These are likely the most critical recommendations for dealing with holiday scamming.

Be cautious about on-line holiday sales promising continued Black Friday or Cyber Monday prices.  A price “too good to be true” can be just that.  Sales promotions by a company you do not recognize or one with which you have not done business can be deceptive.  Unsolicited messages and items sold in social media can be scam traps.

Take a few steps for self-defense.  Be wary of on-line offers.  Web sites with Weebly, GoDaddy, or WIX in the name should be viewed with caution.  Slick websites are easy to create and lend credibility to the scam.  Check out the company using your browser’s search engine typing the name of the company with the word “complaint” or “rating” or contact the Better Business Bureau. 

Are you ordering items to be delivered?  Package thefts are at an all-time high this year.  Most of the thefts occur in broad daylight and in some cases, criminals are actually following delivery trucks.  Ensure safe deliveries by having packages held at a safe location for pickup or have someone present for deliveries.

The final holiday scam protection tip – holiday giving is wonderful; just make sure your gift is going where you want it to go.  Scammers on the phone, on the internet, using text messages, are effective at stealing well intended donations.  Verify the recipient and donate by sending a check or use a credit card. 

You can help educate and protect your family, friends, and neighbors.  By sharing this information.  In addition, join AARP Fraud Watch if you want to make an impact on your community.

(Teaser – Are you familiar with Peer-To-Peer (P2P) money transfers?  Coming up later this month we’ll exam Zelle and Venmo scams)

Questions, concerns?  Contact me,  egreenblott@aarp.org.

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network.  He hosts a CATV program, Mr. Scammer, distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland, VT – www.gnat-tv.org

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