Charity scams on the rise during holidays

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Although we are looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow and Christmas in 29 days, we must be on high alert for scam artists, hackers and other assorted criminals who surface during the holiday season to steal our money and identities.

Charity scams, in particular, are proliferating this time of year “because they tear at our heartstrings, causing us to let our guard down during this period of joy and good will toward all men,” warns Tim Johnston, president of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Northern Nevada.

“Donors also need to be on guard when responding to appeals in the wake of a disaster. For instance, while there are a number of ways to check out charitable organizations, it is difficult to vet individuals requesting money on crowdfunding sites. You may stumble across such online content while surfing the web or scrolling through your social media feed. Sometimes, though, fraudsters reach to you directly via an email, social media direct messages, or even door-to-door campaigns. To help avoid disappointment or potential fraud, the first and most important step is to find more about the charity before making a gift, he said.

How can we avoid these charity scams? The BBB recommends:

Watch out for charity name confusion. Be alert for questionable groups seeking to confuse you with legitimate organizations’ names that sound familiar. Resist pressure to give on the spot. Don’t give in to excessive pressure on the phone to make an immediate donation. Find out more about the charity. A legitimate charity’s website should provide access to information about its programs, board roster, address, telephone number and finances. Do an online search to reveal potential scams. Search the person or charity along with he word “complaint,” Johnston advises.

As well, in the rush of holiday shopping chaos and madness, it can be tempting to grab a “deal” when you see one. It is important to beware of pricing that’s too good to be true. Online scammers often set up dummy websites, phony auction listings and ads that offer popular items far below market value. Some will send you a fake product while others will simply take your money and run. That’s why you must verify you’re shopping through a trusted retailer by checking out its domain name in the browser, Also, no legitimate charity will request that you wire money or pay by a gift card, he added.

As if you needed one more reason to avoid Facebook, this social media site is host to a long-running holiday scam disguised as a “secret Santa” program. It’s the “secret sister” gift exchange which promises that after donating at least one item worth $10 to a fellow participant, you’ll receive up to 36 gifts. The BBB warns that the seemingly innocent gift swap is actually a pyramid scheme in the form of a digital chain letter. It is considered illegal gambling, not to mention that it provides scammers with your home address and personal financial information.

There are several variations of this scam floating around social media, including a wine exchange and children’s book exchange. Unless you personally know each person participating in any of these “secret Santa” exchanges, avoid them like the plague.

We also must realize that our packages are susceptible to “good old-fashioned theft,” says the BBB. Nearly 26 million Americans reported having holiday packages stolen by “porch pirates” last year. Even delivery drivers have been caught swiping packages from the doorsteps and apartment lobbies that they had delivered those same packages to minutes or hours earlier.

To protect your packages from theft, consider requiring a signature for delivery so that the packages aren’t left vulnerable outside your doorstep. You also can have packages delivered to your work address or, in the case of Amazon, a designated pickup place or locker rather than your home address. Or you might consider installing a motion-sensing security camera for your front door to deter thieves or catch them in action. My wife and I don’t think the camera option is very effective because many doorstep thieves wear hoodies or masks, the outside lighting and video resolution are often poor, and the bad guys know how to disable the cameras before swiping your packages.

Yet another holiday ruse holiday shoppers are encountering this year is called the “false shipping notification” scam which is intended to trick recipients into handing over sensitive personal information. For example, a scammer might send an email that looks like it’s from UPS or FedEx, copying the company’s email template and logo so it looks legitimate. The email says your Christmas gift is on the way and you need to arrange for its delivery. However, when you click the link to update your shipping preferences, you unwittingly unload keystroke logging malware that tracks your computer activity so personal information such as credit card and social security numbers can be stolen, says the BBB.

Still another scam labeled the “low-tech notification scam” comes in the form of a “sorry we missed you” note left on your front door or in your mailbox that is designed to mimic official communication from a shipping company. In this scam, the homeowner is directed to call a number listed in the note. When the homeowner makes the call, he or she is told at the other end that the package will not be delivered unless the caller’s credit card and financial information are divulged.

Be diligent this holiday season. The scammers and thieves are out in force to steal your money and personal financial information, cautions the BBB’s Tim Johnston, who can be reached at 775-322-0657 or at his office, 2255 Green Vista Dr., Suite 401, in Sparks.

David C. Henley is publisher emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle-Standard.


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