Halloween is a few short days away, Thanksgiving and Christmas will be here before we know it and seasonal shopping is already in full swing. But scammers and crooks also are gearing up for the holiday season, according to warnings issued by the Better Business Bureau of Northern Nevada.
Our mantra should be “Holiday Greetings, Not Holiday Cheatings.” The scammers’ slogan is “Tis the Season for Holiday Scams,” so we must be extra vigilant and not let our guard down because the scammers and cheats are out to steal our money, our identities and other personal information, cautions Tim Johnston, president of the Sparks-headquartered office of the BBB.
In an email sent me last week by Johnston, he said that charity, identify theft, credit card, gift card and Facebook scams are gaining popularity this season. In the charity scam, a criminal approaches the victim and pretends to represent a charity either by online, phone, text, mail or even in person by someone you meet on the street. Many times, the crook will create a made-up charity you’ve never heard or a legitimate, well-known charity. If the criminal seems pushy and asks for an immediate donation, hang up the telephone or walk away. If you do decide to make the charitable donation, verify its existence before making the donation at Give.org, the BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance website. If you find the charity legitimate, give your money directly via the organization’s official mailing address and not to the person who contacted you. If someone wants the donation in cash, gift card or by wire, don’t do it.
As for identify theft and Facebook scams, be advised that scammers take advantage of social networking sites to earn their victims’ trust by pretending to be a friend or friend of a friend. Sometimes the “friend” claims to be raising money for a charity, a “great deal” on a product or the opportunity to apply for a government grant. Make sure to contact the “friend” by email, phone or text to see if he or she actually sent it to you and if the request for funds is genuine. In short, be wary of online messages from people you don’t know, do some research on the organization requesting money via the BBB’s BBB.orgScamTracker website, report suspicious activity to Facebook to protect your real friends and family from a scam, and keep your accounts secure by locking down your login and updating your security settings, advises the BBB.
Concerning the gift card scam, consumers should be suspicious if scammers ask them to purchase a gift card from them. In these cases, the victim received either a spoofed e-mail, text or phone call from a person pretending to be an authority figure requesting the victim purchase multiple gift cards for either personal, business or charitable purposes. As an example, the victim receives a request to purchase gift cards for an alleged work-related function or as a present for a special personal occasion.
The gift cards, if purchased by the victim, are then used to facilitate the purchase of goods or services which are not legitimate. Some of these incidents are also combined with additional requests for wire transfer payments. The advice given potential gift card givers is to not provide funds for the cards to someone you don’t know. This advice, on the surface, seems to be basic common sense. But thousands of people across the nation whom we believe would be sensible and suspicious of sending money to strangers fall for the gift card scam every year. Many other victims don’t report it to the authorities because they are embarrassed by their foolishness and lack of responsibility.
As for the credit card scam, the BBB recommends using credit cards over debit cards because it is more likely the money will be returned in case of fraudulent purchases. The credit card companies won’t insure your purchase if you use a debit card, so rule number one is to always use a credit card. Since it’s holiday time, try to get a shopping credit card or a separate credit card with lower balances for your holiday shopping. This is the time of year that you’ve got to be really careful about your charges to make sure there are no fraudulent charges, according to a BBB warning. Checking your credit card account immediately after making a purchase also is important because it’s a lot easier to dispute a pending transaction than one that has already gone through. Paying for gasoline at well-lit gas pumps and using ATMs also located in well-lit, busy areas is highly recommended because those in darker areas further away from employees are the ones most likely to be tampered with, adds the BBB.
Enjoy the holiday season. but remember that there are scammers and crooks out there ready to deceive you and steal your money. Be careful when offered deals that sound too good to be true, because they usually are. Be suspicious when giving money to charities. Don’t give money to people you don’t know or know about. And be cautious and questioning every time you write a check, use a credit card or pay online.
David C. Henley is publisher emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle-Standard.