Holiday fraud: How to avoid seasonal scammers


polic lineup with santa, Rudolph the Reindeer and a pretty elf

If it’s December, it’s prime holiday fraud season!

Because it’s the busiest season of the year, scammers work double time to try to maximize their take. And as many times as we’ve issued warnings, thieves are very creative about thinking up sneaky new ways to separate you from your money. The Better Business Bureau is on the case. Here are some of the top scams they see around the holidays.

Delivery scams and package thefts this holiday season – While just plain old theft of shipped packages from your doorstep or workplace is common, there are a few other things to watch out for. BBB says that phishing emails pose as official notices from delivery companies. These either contain a “tracking link” or a message that the shipper is having difficulty delivering a package to you with a number to call. Or they affix fake “missed delivery” tags on your door, asking you to call a phone number to reschedule your delivery – all are just ruses to get your personal information.

Social media ad scams – Last year, the BBB found that online purchase scams were the most common cons reported to Scam Tracker and the category with the most victims, many involving Facebook and Instagram ads. Watch out for products claiming to support charity, free trial offers, counterfeit merchandise and apps of unknown origin. Social media is also a hub for illegal gift exchange pyramid schemes. BBB says these pop up every year with new twists. When an offer seems too good to be true, it almost always is.

Is that Santa App safe? Better check it twice. BBB says that the Apple and Google app stores list tons of holiday-themed apps: children can video chat live with Santa himself, light the menorah, watch Santa feed live reindeer, track his sleigh on Christmas Eve, relay electronic Christmas wish-lists, or play Hanukkah games like dreidel. But many of these are invasive and may violate children’s privacy laws in the information they collect. For more, see our post on protecting your kids from ID theft.

Don’t get scammed out of a gift card this season – the BBB says “Before grabbing a gift card for a favorite store or restaurant, know that thieves are just as eager to use these gift cards before they’re presented to the intended recipient. Also, some retailers have terms and conditions as to how the gift card can be redeemed.” See our post about new consumer protections for prepaid debit cards.

Tips for avoiding job scams this holiday season – Many of us are looking for extra money over the holidays and a part-time seasonal job is a common way to earn that cash. But it’s also a time when scammers exploit that desire. BBB reminds you that legit employers will never ask for payment upfront for a job. They say to be wary of big money for small jobs and job offers that don’t require an interview.

8 Tips for dealing with holiday pop-up shops – BBB receives hundreds of complaints a year about temporary retail locations, reporting everything from poor quality merchandise to difficulty obtaining refunds after temporary stores have closed their doors. Pop-up shops can be fun but follow BBB’s tips in mind if you choose to buy from one of them.

See more holiday safety tips from the BBB and use their Scam Tracker to identify common scams near you.

Here are prior posts about more common holiday fraud schemes:

 

A rogue’s gallery of insurance fraudsters, 2016 style


Insurance fraud is a crime that we all pay for in the form of higher premiums for our home, auto and business insurance. However, 10% of the population still thinks that “insurance fraud doesn’t hurt anyone.” Nothing could be further from the truth! According to the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, fraud steals about $80 billion a year across all lines of insurance. Yikes. And for some people, the cost is much higher than dollars and cents – if you are unlucky enough to be one of the victims of these criminals, you could lose your identity, your good credit, your life savings, or even your life.

Every year, the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud issues lists a rogue’s gallery of the worst, most egregious insurance criminals from the prior year. Recently, they named 8 criminals to the 2016 Insurance Fraud Hall of Shame. One of the purposes in publicizing the list is to educate and alert you, the consumer, about the scope and type of fraud crimes that are out there.

Here’s a sneak preview of some of their crimes to give you an idea of the severity – you can read the full stories of their crimes from the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud site.

  • Neighborhood blows up in botched insurance arson
  • Epic crash ring braked after $279-million whiplash spree
  • Lawless libido traps cheater in partner-swap comp romp
  • Oh deer! Mob associate uses deer parts to stage car wrecks
  • Samaritan scammer shotguns legs to steal disability insurance
  • Dad murders infant for $750,000 of life-insurance money
  • Bedridden girl starves to death while nurse shops
  • Doctor peddles $60 million of unneeded drugs to poor people

Reporting insurance fraud

One way to combat this type of crime is to report it. Here are some ways to do that.

 

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Crime alert: more on card skimming fraud


card skimming fraud

Card skimming fraud is a type of fraud that uses devices to read your credit card and steal your pin or password. It’s a type of theft that frequently happens at ATM machines, but it also is common at gas stations and any place that you swipe the magnetic strip of a credit or debit card. The latest scene of the crime are self-checkout stations in supermarkets.

The problem is that data on your credit card is stored in magnetic strip on the back of your card and the magnetic strip is not encrypted. Cheap devices are readily available to scan that data. Devices used to be large and unwieldy, but have become increasingly smaller and cheaper. These devices can be cleverly disguised and affixed to retail outlets that read your cards. They can also be used anyplace your card is scanned.

To foil card skimming fraud, new cards contain chips with encrypted data so those cards are safer in theory. We say “in theory” because it’s an enormous undertaking for banks, gas stations and retailers to replace the card reader stations and convert to chip-enabled card readers, so many still rely on reading magnetic strips. As long as your credit cards have a magnetic strip, they are still insecure.

This ABC News video clip is about 8 minutes long  –  a good investment for a quick education about what skimming is, how to spot it and steps to take to prevent it.

Here are skimming fraud prevention tips we’ve gleaned from the experts over the years.

  • Use well lit, well-trafficked ATMS and gas stations with security cameras; go inside banks; be particularly careful at freestanding ATMs.
  • When using an ATM or paying at the gas pump, check for anything unusual and be alert for any devices that may be affixed. Look for anything that protrudes from or seems affixed to the machine, any color differences, any unusual stickers. Look for nearby mirrors, pamphlet holders, speakers, or devices that could house a camera.
  • Always cover the keypad with your hand to shield from any cameras that may be trying to record your PIN. It’s also a good idea to touch several keys with your fingers to thwart anyone trying to grab your pin via infrared heat detector readers.
  • Don’t let anyone “help you” at an ATM or credit card reader.
  • When paying at a restaurant or any retail outlet, don’t let anyone walk away with your card, have them read the card in your presence so that they don’t harvest your information with a small pocket-skimmer.
  • Check your bank account regularly to ensure funds have not been taken.
  • If you spot anything suspicious at an ATM or a  self-service gas or grocery kiosk, alert the business or the police right away.

Two ways your garage door makes you vulnerable to burglaries


Garage Door Opener

Burglar garage door tactic #1: Thieves are often breaking into cars not to steal the car, but to steal the garage door opener. If thieves spot a garage door opener in your parked vehicle, they steal it, harvest your home address from the car registration or other identifying material in your glove compartment, and break into your garage while you are still out and about. And unless your garage is a free-standing unit, getting into the garage will offer easy access to your entire house.

The solution is simple – keep garage door opener on your key chain so you can take it with you in your purse or pocket when you exit the car.

Burglar garage door tactic #2: Most people feel pretty safe if they have their garage door closed, but in just a matter of seconds, experienced thieves can break in to your garage with a simple wire hanger by hooking the release valve. This short video shows how – it;s pretty scary — and the clip also offers a solution to deter this by using a cable tie.

You should test breaking the cable tie from the inside to be sure that the door could still be used as an emergency exit. Here are two alternate products that can help to secure your garage from Garage Shield.

Your garage is an entry point to your entire home – and as the article above notes, if burglars get in your garage and close the door, they have good cover for wreaking havoc. All too often, the door between the garage and the home is unlocked or insufficiently secure. Here are some ideas to increase your defenses: Top 10 Garage Door Security Tips to Prevent Break-Ins.

When guarding against summer burglaries, don’t forget your yard


There are more than two million home burglaries per year, according to the FBI, and the highest percentage of burglaries occurs during the summer months. It’s not hard to figure out why. It’s peak vacation season so a lot of homes are empty; plus, with warm weather, there’s an increase in the number of doors and windows left open, which make accessibility easier. According to Safeguard the World:

  • About 30 percent of all burglaries are through an open or unlocked window or door.
  • Windows are left unlocked at a much higher rate than doors.
  • An open window that is visible from the street may be the sole reason that a house is targeted.
  • An open window with only a locked window screen is particularly inviting to thieves. Access is quick, easy and silent.

See more statistics along with prevention tips.

One other seasonal vulnerability is highlighted in a recent survey conducted by one of our insurer partners. American Modern Insurance points out that in good weather, there are simply more unsecured “backyard valuables” lying around: bikes, sporting equipment, grilles, lawn furniture – all relatively easy targets for thieves. Copper coils from air conditioners and other metallic items can be sold for scrap metal.

“An American Modern survey of more than 500 adults living in the US, indicated that 31 percent do not take proactive steps to secure property and personal items located on the outside of the home. Additionally, the survey indicated that respondents were most likely to take steps to protect their electronics (42%), as well as jewelry and watches (23%) inside their homes, and less likely to do so with outdoor/recreational items (18%). The survey was conducted through Google in June 2016.”

In their press release, American Modern offers 10 tips, which we reproduce here:

1. Install strong door locks and deadbolts. Choose a lock that is proven to withstand drilling or picking.

2. Reinforce doorjambs and strike plates. Most often, structural failures occur when strike plates separate from doorframes.

3. Apply window security film. This prevents glass breakage and can deter a smash-and-grab.

4. Lock your windows. If your windows don’t already have locks, add them. Or, drill small holes into the upper and lower sashes at their overlap point and insert removable eyebolts.

5. Close and lock your shed and garage every night. Make sure your vehicles are under cover and secure before you head out of town. On a smaller scale, stolen tools and lawn equipment are also a lucrative theft item, so ensure these items are securely stored away. The garage can also serve as a common entry point for burglars.

6. When away from home, don’t advertise your absence. Put temporary holds on mail and newspaper delivery, or have a trusted neighbor collect them. Put lights on staggered timers. Also, avoid posting on social media about your travel plans, which can increase the risk of burglaries and break-ins while you are away from your property.

7. Keep valuables outside the bedroom. Thieves on the hunt for valuables will likely make the master bedroom their first stop to scout out jewelry or cash. Keep these items in a different room instead.

8. Put in motion-activated outdoor lighting. Make sure entry points are especially well-lit.

9. Organize a Neighborhood Watch. Meet your neighbors and deter theft!

10. Vehicles and items left in them. Most vehicle-related thefts take place in under 20 seconds. Never leave loose items on the seats or dash; lock them in the trunk or, better yet, take them inside with you. If you have a garage at home, use it. If you must park on the street, install a loud alarm system with a visible, blinking dash light.