Scams, thefts common this time of year

As shoppers are out and about looking for Christmas bargains, so, too, are scammers. But it’s not presents they are looking for, only unsuspecting victims.

As shoppers are out and about looking for Christmas bargains, so, too, are scammers. But it’s not presents they are looking for, only unsuspecting victims.

Each year Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan receives hundreds of complaints from consumers who have been ripped off. But during the Christmas season is when Madigan’s office sees a spike in complaints and ID theft and charity scams top the list.

“ID theft is the number one complaint with the Attorney General’s office. Holiday shopping season is high time for this kind of crime,” said Madigan. “So it is important consumers protect themselves either if they’re out shopping or online buying gifts.”

Madigan said consumers should practice these tips to prevent ID theft from happening to them:

*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 you do this, keep a list or photocopy of all your credit cards, account numbers, expiration dates and the telephone numbers of their customer service and fraud departments in a secure place at home. Do the same with your 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.

And while ID theft is considered the most used scam, there are scams involving charities.

“Many people give during the holidays to charitable causes, and every day charities throughout Illinois work tirelessly to serve the less fortunate,” Madigan added. “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 the Attorney General’s office. These organizations regularly provide her office with information about their income, expenditures, programs and administrators. Consumers can contact her 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, said Michael Fisher, a deputy director for the Federal Trade Commission.

“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.”

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

Other holiday scams are E-Card Scams. You may receive an e-mail from an unnamed “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 e-card Web site.

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

The FTC suggests not clicking on links if you’re suspicious.

*If there’s any doubt about an e-card’s authenticity, don’t click on any links inside.

*Delete e-cards from people you don’t know without opening or reading them, and never click to accept terms from any company without actually reading the fine print.

*And most important, install antivirus and anti-spyware software and keep it up to date. Shopping mall and at home scams are also on the rise.

If you’re a shopper, beware of being shortchanged, either intentionally or unintentionally. Fisher said both are easy to do in the frantic atmosphere at the cash register at this time of year.

And if you’re the cashier, beware of the flimflam, in which the scammer gives you a highvalue bill then tries to change it for a smaller one and generally messes around until you lose track of what’s going on.

How to avoid this scam:

*To avoid this scam have a fairly clear idea of the total cost before you go to the register and, if you can’t make the right money, know what size of bill you’ll use and how much change to expect. And don’t move away from the register until you’ve checked your change and your receipt.

And last, there are scams by home.

You get a card through your door saying an unsuccessful attempt was made to deliver a package to your home and that you should call a particular number for more details.

You might reasonably be expecting a parcel at this time of year, so you call the number and get a recorded message or music that keeps you on the line for a while.

But by calling the number listed you’ve connected to a premium line or overseas service, which will be charged at exorbitant rates on your next phone bill, like the 809 scam.

Or you may be asked to provide personal information that could be used for identity theft or to give information that would let a thief know when you’re going to be out.

How to avoid this scam:

*Check the name of the company on the Internet. Also check online lists of overseas phone codes. If the number is not a 1-800 or local call, it may well be a scam. Don’t give out personal details over the phone to someone you don’t know, and don’t tell them when you’re going to be away from your home.

Consumers can call the Attorney General office, 312-814-2595; FTC, 877-382-4357 or the Better Business Bureau, 312-832-0500 to verify merchants, charities, Web sites or to file a complaint if you feel you have been scammed.

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Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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