November 26, 2010—“Black Friday” marks the beginning of the busy holiday shopping season, and District Attorney Seth Williams and Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross want to remind everyone that it’s a busy time of year for criminals as well as holiday shoppers.
“There is always somebody looking to separate you from your money,” said District Attorney Seth Williams. “The best course of action is prevention. Many thieves choose their victims because the thieves see an opportunity. If you take away the opportunity, chances are you won’t become a victim. The last thing that anyone needs during these touch economic times is to lose their hard earned money because of a criminal.”
There are several new scams this year that the District Attorney’s Office and the Police Department are monitoring.
- Online Membership Programs
What it is: Scammers will use “rewards or discounts” pop-up windows under the guise of mainstream companies to get people to sign up with the scammer’s company and unknowingly give personal or financial information.
What to do: Be skeptical of “rewards or discounts” pop-ups. If you do click on one, make sure to read the fine print and subsequently check your credit card statement regularly.
What it is: Automated text messages that ask for personal information.
What to do: Check the call-back number on Google to make sure it is legitimate.
- Small and Frequent Charges
What it is: Scammers will “test” victims, making small charges on their credit card to see if they are caught. If they go undetected, the scammer will later make larger and larger charges.
What to do: Review your bank statement monthly, and call the company if you don’t recognize any charges.
What it is: Scammers will capture keypad and card information when consumers input their PIN number at ATMs, gas stations, restaurants, etc. They can then use this to extract money from victims’ accounts.
What to do: Always select the “credit” option at retailers, gas stations, and restaurants, even if you are using a debit card. By selecting “credit,” you do not have to input your PIN and you are less liable for fraud. With ATMs, try to use those at your bank whenever possible.
- Counterfeit Products
What it is: Scammers will sell counterfeit electronics with faulty wiring and fuses or dangerous chemicals.
What to do: Verify that the product is real by checking the package for any misspellings or otherwise abnormal qualities, and check that the label is genuine at www.CSA-international.org.
There are also several standard scams during the holiday season that you always need to look out for.
Going Out of Business Sales—-Many companies are going out of business or are in bankruptcy protection. Be sure to check on the company’s policies. Many purchases are final sales, no returns or exchanges. Also check to see if they are honoring coupons and/or previously-purchased gift cards and for how long.
Gift Cards—As always, check for expiration dates and progressive fees. Many cards expire if not used by a certain date. Many cards add fees if not used by a certain date. The best gift cards never expire and do not charge fees of any kind.
- Use a designated credit card rather than a debit card for online shopping. Most credit cards cap your liability at $50, whereas there may not be a cap with a debit card, which is an open invitation to your entire bank account.
- Dedicate one credit card for online shopping only. It will be easy to keep track of purchases—and unauthorized purchases.
- Your social security number is the key to your identity. DO NOT give out your social security number while shopping online.
- Online shoppers must be vigilant in avoiding scams and protecting their personal information
Specific Holiday Themed Scams
- Name a Star—Very romantic, and very popular, companies say they will send you a certificate denoting the name and location of ‘your star’ and promising to enter it into a star registry. However, only the International Astronomical Union names stars, and they are not for sale. The International Astronomical Union is not going to enter ‘your star’ into the official IAU catalog.
- Fake Charities— Reputable charities DO NOT solicit online.
- Unsolicited Bulk e-mail solicitations—It is not worth the risk of opening yourself up to possible scam artists.
- Instant credit offers
- Free travel Vacations
- Also beware of high pressure sales and online auctions. They may be legal, but you may overpay.
Other Popular Scams
- Mortgage Aid Scams—Scammers ask people to send them money directly, which may even result in victims losing their homes.
- Nigerian Bank Scam—Promises money if the victim will process a check, which of course is fraudulent, through the victim’s account. Very popular to the tune of millions of dollars.
- Lost Pet Scam—Scammers find lost pet ads in the paper, contact the grieving pet owner and say that the pet was taken to Mexico. Owners call a bogus long-distance phone number to the tune of hundreds in phone calls, which goes straight to the scammer. The pet, of course, is never found.
- Phishing–fraudulent emails that prompt consumers to reveal social security numbers, bank account numbers and other ‘keys to one’s identity’—is expanding to include more businesses, including Citibank, Fleet, eBay, PayPal, and the FDIC. Consumers should also watch out for fake emails from charities.
- Pharming is another cyberscam that redirects users from a legitimate website to a fake website without their knowledge. Then, when the user types in a username and password, criminals capture the information. Consumers are advised to research antivirus software that addresses this scam.
“Nobody is safe from thieves or cyber crime,” said Mr. Williams. “If your identity is stolen, you could spend 18 months to three years in credit purgatory. Prevention is critical.”
On the ground:
Since thieves work on the ground as well as on the internet, here are strategies to avoid being a victim of crime:
- Guard the chain of custody of your credit card. If you give your credit card to a clerk or restaurant server who then takes it in the back and swipes it on a ‘wedge,’ the information on the magnetic stripe from your credit card can be duplicated.
- Do not put your purse in a shopping cart.
- Keep your wallet in an inside pocket, and strap your purse around you and tuck it under your arm. Beware of people bumping into you or distracting your attention by engaging you in conversation. This is an old scam to divert your attention in order to steal your wallet or purse.
- Place your packages in the trunk so they cannot be seen. Always park in a well-lighted area.
- Do not park next to a van. Criminals can pull you into a van as you go to your car, and nobody will see it happen.
- Always accompany young children to the restroom. Tell your children in advance to look for a source of help within the store or mall, such as a uniformed police officer or a salesperson with a nametag.
On the Phone:
“Crimes of persuasion” are the schemes, scams, and frauds that con artists use to steal your savings. Watch out for sob stories, sweepstakes, lotteries, and wacky investments, secured credit card offers, credit repair offers and even fortune tellers. While some telemarketers are legitimate, do not give out social security numbers or credit card numbers to unknown people on the telephone.
- Accessing your credit report by posing as an employer, loan officer or landlord.
- Stealing mail from mailboxes to obtain credit card statements, bank statements or other personal information.
- Taking trash bags from the street with old credit card and bank statements
- “Dumpster Diving” into trash bins to retrieve financial statements.
- Motto: Shred, shred, shred, and be sure to use a cross-cut shredder. Vertical strips can easily be pieced together, and vertical shredders should be avoided.
- Dishonest employees with access to your personnel records.
- Misdirected mail or email with personal information.
Most Valuable Documents for Thieves:
- Social Security Card—The ‘magic’ number. Do not carry your social security card with you, and do not give out the number. If you are asked for the number, ask the person what would happen if you didn’t give it out. In many cases, it’s not necessary.
- Drivers license
- Credit Cards
10. Telephone calling cards
11. Birth certificates