Watch out for holiday scams
Online and phone scammers at work this holiday season
by Sweetwater County Sheriff's Office
December 23, 2013
Sheriff Rich Haskell and the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office in Rock Springs/Green River have issued several holiday scam advisories that provides information to help people avoid being victimized by internet cybercriminals and phone scammers.
Green Dot Card Scam
People receive a call from someone who identifies himself as a police officer. The person, who sounds very official and even provides a bogus court docket number, tells the intended victim a warrant has been issued for his or her arrest and the fine needs to be paid quickly to avoid going to jail. He instructs the individual to purchase a Green Dot card, which is a legitimate, reloadable debit card, from Wal-Mart or other store, and use it to pay the fine and have the warrant cancelled. The caller provides a specific amount to be placed on the card. The caller also provides a phone number for the victim to call back once the card has been purchased. The victim calls back, provides the Green Dot card number, and their money disappears.
"Like wired funds, the Green Dot debit card funds are virtually untraceable," Sheriff Haskell explained. "That’s why this scam is so popular with criminals." Officials emphasized that no police officer is going to call someone with an active warrant and tell them to put the necessary funds on a Green Dot card to pay off a fine. "If you think a warrant may have been issued for you, contact the appropriate court yourself," Haskell recommended. Another variation of this scam involves the caller telling victims that their utilities are about to be shut off due to an unpaid bill, which can be forestalled if they use a Green Dot card to square up their overdue account. Haskell recommended the same follow-up procedure in such instances - call the utilities company or office yourself to confirm the situation.
Social Media Scams
Scam artists learned very quickly that social media networks like Facebook and Twitter are rich hunting grounds, offering the potential for endless numbers of potential victims. They use social media just they also use email and websites to scam consumers. Be wary of "wonderful deals" you encounter on social media just as you would with suspicious emails and websites.
In addition, the "New Friend Request" scam is also popular this time of year. Around the holidays, people like to reach out to (and hear from) relatives and friends they haven’t communicated with for a while, and are happy to receive "new friend requests." Be cautious; while these messages are usually from a legitimate social media website, there may instead be a hacker on the other end and you wind up linking to viruses and/or giving up personal information. In any case, think twice about messages from friends or strangers that direct you to another website via a hyperlink.
Emails soliciting funds for fake charities are common around the holidays. Thieves count on the generosity of good people to make this scam work - restrict your donations to organizations you know to be legitimate and always think twice before donating to any groups you’re not familiar with.
A little research can go a long way, too. "Watchdog" organizations Charity Navigator at www.charitynavigator.org and Charity Watch at www.charitywatch.org, are both recommended by the Federal Trade Commission and provide a wealth of information on legitimate charities.
Email Banking Scams
More and more people are doing their shopping online, and cybercriminals know it. Internet shoppers are anxious that their online transactions be approved, so their guard is often down when they receive an email asking them to confirm account information, including user name and password. These emails often include a stern warning that if the information is not forthcoming, the account will become invalid. You should never respond to email requests for personal or financial data.
Phony Gift Cards
Be suspicious of emails you receive from third parties offering special deals on gift cards. Gift cards are a great idea for Christmas presents, but should you buy a bogus card, not only do you find yourself ripped off, but your credit card information winds up in the hands of crooks. Buying gift cards locally eliminates that risk.
Job-Related Email Scams
Many welcome the opportunity to make a little extra cash for the holidays and scammers take full advantage of it, sending out emails to lure in job seekers with promises of short-term, high-paying jobs and work-from-home schemes. What they are after is your personal and/or financial information and once they have it, you’ll find yourself victimized.
Fraudulent Classified Ads
Online classified ad sites for wonderful gift ideas and even part-time jobs to raise money for Christmas presents may seem like a good idea, but are often used by scammers. When you are asked for too much personal information or requested to wire funds via Western Union, you are almost certainly dealing with a scam.
Holiday Spam and/or Phishing
There is always an increase in holiday-themed spam and phishing emails at this time of year offering wonderful deals on everything from Rolex watches to top-shelf cell phones to pharmaceuticals. Exercise extreme care with such communications - crooks who are "phishing" are after information such as passwords and credit card numbers. Remember, anyone legitimately selling valuable merchandise doesn’t need to send out hundreds of thousands of emails to do business.
Holiday Contest or Survey Scams
Scammers take full advantage of the latest crazes for popular "must have" items like the iPad Air, creating bogus contests and surveys offering free devices and other too-good-to-be-true deals, while they are phishing away the whole time, trolling for your credit card numbers and passwords.
"Con artists, scammers, hackers, and other criminals depend on your holiday spirit," Haskell warned. "They count on people’s generosity and good will, particularly at this time of year, to find and create victims. Don’t be a victim. Be cautious, be careful, and remember always what was true long before home computers and the Internet: If something sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is."
Authorities recommend the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s website at www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud as an excellent source of information to help people protect themselves against fraud and scams of all kinds.