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Consumer Scams

Be Alert for Holiday Scams

The holidays are a busy season.  People are shopping, baking, decorating and socializing with friends.  Food banks and charities work to raise funds during the holidays because they know it is the time of year when people are the most generous.  Con-artists and scammers also love the holidays.  They know that busy people can be careless people. 

They take advantage of the holiday spirit to run charity scams that prey on people’s generosity. They prey on busy shoppers with fake bargains. The con-artists are out there, so take a minute out of your holiday preparations to educate yourself about current holiday scams.

1. A Puppy For Christmas

Many children ask for a puppy for Christmas.  Grandparents and parents want to make that wish come true and turn to the internet to find just the right dog for their beloved child.  Watch out for puppy deals that are just too good.  Pedigree dogs tend to be expensive.  When you see a French Bulldog puppy advertised for $300.00, that’s probably not a genuine offer.   Price several local breeders for the breed of puppy that interests you.  If an internet offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  The ad may feature adorable puppy pictures.  That still doesn’t mean the dogs are real.  You can get puppy pictures anywhere.  Another version of the scam involves an ad where the owner of the dog claims to have recently moved out of the county.  He claims the dog cannot acclimate to the new environment.  He offers to send you the dog if you will pay the shipping costs and promise to take good care of his pet.  You send him the money and you never hear from him again.  There was no dog, and no owner who left the country.

If you plan to buy a puppy from a local breeder, visit the breeder in person. (Don’t go alone.  Take an adult friend with you.)   Ask to see the breeder’s American Kennel Club (AKC) credentials.  Check to see if the dogs are kept in a clean, well maintained area, and if the adult dogs look healthy and well fed.  If you must buy from someone who does not live in your area, do your homework.  Ask for references and talk to other people who have purchased an animal from that breeder.  Ask if the breeder is a member of an AKC affiliated club; then, contact the club to verify membership.  Don’t pay the full price of the dog up front.  If the dog is shipped long distance, verify the dog’s health with your veterinarian before paying the final installment on the puppy.

2.  Charity Scams

The holiday season attracts scam artists like no other time of the year.  They will call your home or cell phone claiming to be collecting money for police or firefighter organizations.  Normally, when police or firefighter groups raise money for their charitable organizations, they use professional fundraisers.  Here are some tips to help you distinguish between the scam artists and the real deal:

• Ask for written information about the organization that describes how your money will be used and the percentage of your donation that will go to administrative costs versus charitable work.

• Ask the fund raiser for identification.  You want to know the fund raiser’s name and the name of his or her employer.

• Ask if your donation is tax-deductible.  

• Call the actual organization and inquire about the legitimacy of the fund raiser.

• Never give cash.

Once you force the telemarketer to deviate from his or her script by asking questions and pressing for information, the scammer will likely try to end the conversation and move on to the next call.  

Charities helping veterans and military families also look for contributions during the holidays.  There are many legitimate charities supporting veterans, but there are also some that are pretty shady.  Just because the words “veteran” or “military” are in the name of the organization, does not mean it is a legitimate charity.

• Donate only to charities with a legitimate track record.

• Check with Scambusters or Charity Navigator, or give.org for information about which legitimate charities have a favorable ratio between the amount of contributions going to charitable work versus executive compensation.

• Ask the telephone solicitor questions about the charity.  Find out if he is a paid fund raiser or a volunteer.  Always be a bit wary of charities using paid fund raisers.  Those tend to have high administrative costs with little of your money going to the actual mission.  

Some of the solicitors may be from legitimate charities that are registered with the IRS and state governments, but a little investigation reveals that only 2 or 3 cents on the dollar go to the charity mission.  These charities often have executives making annual salaries of $500,000.00 or more.  

3. Online Purchase Scams

Internet shopping increases dramatically over the holidays, and so do the internet scams.  Some of the ones you need to watch for this year are these:

The iTunes Gift Card Scam:  You receive an email that purports to be from iTunes.  The text reads something like this:  You sent a $100 iTunes gift card to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  It will give you a receipt number, show you a gift card and an invoice.  The email will then tell you to click cancel if you don’t recognize the transaction.  Outraged that someone has used your account to perpetrate a fraud, you click cancel.  You are then directed to a fake website that asks you for personal information needed to cancel the transaction.  Always go to iTunes directly for questions about an email or to purchase an iTunes card.

Twitter Deals:  You post on twitter about a holiday gift you are going to buy.  You then receive a tweet from someone offering to sell you the item at a great price.  Don’t bite!  If you do not know the person who posted, ignore the tweet.

Duplicate Websites:  Internet scammers are often very sophisticated.  One of their tricks is to build duplicate websites that look just like those of the actual merchant.  Then, they email you about a great deal and direct you to their duplicate site.  There, they obtain your credit card information as you pay for merchandise that will never arrive.  If you get an email about a great deal on Amazon, Craigslist, or some other site, do not click on the link in the email. Exit your email program and go directly to the merchant’s website to inquire about the deal.

Holiday Credit Card:  Beware of internet advertisers who offer pay-in-advance credit cards.  They advertise prequalification and low interest rates on credit cards if the victim pays a processing fee up front.  Legitimate credit card offers don’t require a processing fee.  There are no legitimate pre-paid loan or credit card offers. If you want a credit card, get one directly from a recognized financial institution.

Stolen Packages:  In addition to scam artists, the holidays are notorious for plain old thieves.  Be alert to the possibility of mail and package theft.  Thieves scout neighborhoods on bicycles and in cars.  They are looking for packages left unattended.  Delivery drivers will often leave a package at the front door.  Those are easy targets for the alert thief.  Track your packages on the internet and know when to expect delivery.  If you expect delivery at a time when you won’t be home, ask a neighbor to watch for the package and pick it up when it arrives.

4. The IRS, Jury Duty, and Credit Card Scams

In addition to holiday scams, the old standards are still around.  The jury duty scam seems to be common in Maricopa and Pima counties right now.  The caller pretends he is calling from the court-house to inform you that you missed jury duty.  If you pay a $400.00 fine, you will be excused.  Otherwise, you risk going to jail.  Of course, it is all nonsense.  You were never summoned for jury duty.

The IRS scam is similar.  You receive a call from someone purporting to be from the IRS.  This person says you owe back taxes.  You can settle-up right now, paying by credit card over the phone.  If you fail to do so, you risk huge fines and jail time.  The IRS will never telephone to inform you about delinquent taxes.  If you have a tax problem, the IRS will inform you in writing with a formal letter

I get at least two phone calls a week that start out “We are calling to inform you about an issue with your credit card account.”  At that point, I usually hang up, but if I stayed on the line, the conversation would continue with the caller wanting to verify my credit card information.  The first tip-off that this is a scam is the generic reference to my credit card account.  She doesn’t say “your Discover card” or “your Chase Visa.”  The caller’s statement is general because she doesn’t have a clue what credit cards I may actually have.  The second clue is the caller asking me to verify my credit card number and expiration date.  She doesn’t read the account number and ask me to verify if it is correct.  She expects me to give her the number.  

These are only a few of the many scams and cons out there.  There are many more that we haven’t discussed.  I grant you it takes a lot of thought and work to stay ahead of the con artists, but being taken in a con is both expensive and humiliating.  Verify!  Verify!  Verify!   That is the key to prevent being victimized.  Do not trust any stranger you meet online or talk to on the telephone without carefully vetting both the person and the organization.  

Resources

www.give.org/charity-reviews/national/veterans-and-military/disabled-american-veterans-in-cold-spring-ky-1692

www.give.org/charity-reviews/national

www.charitynavigator.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This website has been prepared for general information purposes only. The information on this website is not legal advice. Legal advice is dependent upon the specific circumstances of each situation. Also, the law may vary from state-to-state or county-to-county, so that some information in this website may not be correct for your situation. Finally, the information contained on this website is not guaranteed to be up to date. Therefore, the information contained in this website cannot replace the advice of competent legal counsel licensed in your jurisdiction.

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