‘Tis the season: AG warns of scams, in time for holidays

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Each year Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says her office receives hundreds of complaints from consumers who allege they have been scammed. But during the Christmas season is when Madigan’s office often sees a spike in complaints, such as ide

Each year Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says her office receives hundreds of complaints from consumers who allege they have been scammed. But during the Christmas season is when Madigan’s office often sees a spike in complaints, such as identity theft and charity scams.

“ID theft is the number one complaint with the Attorney General’s office. Holiday shopping season is high time for this kind of crime,” Madigan told the Defender. “So it is important consumers protect themselves (especially) if they’re shopping online.”

Other scams include phony job offers.

Consumers are contacted by e-mail or a classified advertisement in local newspaper stating a well-paid job or a part-time opportunity is available.

“But the unsuspecting job seeker will engage in communication with the prospective employer who will then likely send some form of pre-payment or over-payment to the employee,” said Erik Hampton, spokesman for the Federal Trade Commission. “The employer will then request the money back for a ‘family emergency.’ The victim is then urged to send some of his or her own money before the check has cleared. The check then bounces and the employer is never heard from again. This scam is also used to obtain people’s personal details that can be used for identity theft.”

Madigan recommends that consumers practice certain safety steps to prevent ID theft:

*Carry only the credit you know you will need. When you use a credit card, make sure you know where your card goes during the transaction and get it back immediately following the purchase. Always take receipts with you.

*Never write passwords or PIN numbers on the back of cards or anything else you keep in your wallet.

*Contact creditors immediately if you lose your wallet. To help consumers do this, Madigan suggests keeping a list or photocopy of all credit cards, account numbers, expiration dates, and customer service telephone numbers in a secure place at home. And consumers should do the same with bank account information.

*And when shopping online, shop only with companies you know and trust. Use a secure web browser and keep a record of all transactions.

ID theft is considered the most used scam, but there are also scams involving phony charities.

“Many people give during the holidays to charitable causes, and every day charities throughout Illinois work tirelessly to serve the less fortunate,” Madigan said. “Unfortunately, there are also fraudulent charities that prey upon the generosity of citizens. Fraudulent charities may make misleading solicitations or solicit for phony causes.”

According to Madigan, more than 25,000 charitable organizations are registered with her office.

These organizations regularly provide her office with information about their income, expenditures, programs and administrators. Consumers can contact her at to learn more about a particular organization, or want to know if a charity that has solicited you for a donation is registered.

Spam solicitations are another way cyber thieves scam consumers, Hampton said.

“Never buy anything from an unsolicited email. No matter how good a deal you think you are getting, it is not worth the risk of losing your money or giving any of your information to a possible scam artist,” he said “By responding to these e-mails, you are begging to receive so much spam as to make your inbox unusable, because by responding to their e-mail, you let the spammers know that you have a working email address.”

Other Internet scams involve con artists who will hack into e-mail accounts and send a message to all their contacts claiming to be the account holder and stating that they are in trouble overseas. The e-mail asks all recipients to send cash to a money transfer account in another country.

He added that spam scams have become so prevalent that they are virtually indistinguishable from legitimate advertisers.

Other holiday scams are electronic card, or ecard, scams. You may receive an e-mail from an unnamed-and unreal-relative, neighbor, or friend who has supposedly sent you an e-card that can be viewed by clicking on a link.

But by clicking on that link, you may unleash anything from spyware and pop-up ads to viruses. In some cases, nothing bad happens until you first download software from the ecard Web site.

Sometimes, unwanted or malicious software is downloaded to your computer with your permission — after you agree to certain “fineprint” terms and conditions, usually without reading them.

Financial crimes are among the worst nationally, said Hampton, because they are easy to do.

“Scam artists are attaching portable copying devices to ATM machines that look as though it is part of the actual machine,” he said. “When a victim swipes their card to get cash the machine copies the card number, which is then used to make fraudulent purchases.”

Contact the Attorney General’s office at 1- 800-386-5438 to verify merchants, charities, Web sites or to file a complaint if you feel you have been scammed.

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