Don’t be a holiday crime victim: Keep your guard up over the holidays, advocate says

Auto burglaries tend to increase in November and December because thieves expect to find gifts and valuables in cars. Police and consumer advocates advise keeping purchases and personal belongings out of sight. SPECIAL/METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION

It may appear thieves and scammers multiply during the holiday season, but they don’t. The problem, a local consumer advocate says, is this is the time of year when more people make themselves easy targets.

 

“Once you get into that holiday mode, everything changes,” said Kelvin Collins, director of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia and the CSRA. “You start getting into a little more generous spirit and you’re more likely to fall for a scam.”

And, he says, increased commerce in November and December create more opportunities for personal larceny and other property crimes.

“There’s a reason that car break-ins spike during the holidays – the chances of something being in that car drastically go up.”

Collins, whose nonprofit covers the Augusta, Macon and Columbus, Ga., markets, said fewer people would fall victim to fraud during the holiday season if they exercised the same level of vigilance they do year-round.

“Scam artists need one of two things: They need greed or need,” he said. “If you’re greedy enough to think you’re going to get a 55-inch TV for $99, you’re going to get taken. If you’re needy enough to think you won a $100 gift card to your favorite store and all you have to do is give out some financial information, you’re going to become a victim.”

Increased charitable giving during the holidays gives scammers more opportunities to make phone solicitations on behalf of bogus charities or create fake Salvation Army Red Kettle stations. (Tip: legitimate bellringers wear official Salvation Army aprons and ID badges.)

Having personal financial data stolen is a major concern, given hackers’ ability to obtain information on millions of Americans through high-profile security breaches, such as the one involving credit bureau Equifax earlier this year.

There’s little a consumer can do to stop a motivated hacker from obtaining data from third-party sources, Collins acknowledges. But many identity theft cases he sees involve consumers who willingly give their information to scammers through spoofed websites or phishing emails that impersonate package-tracking messages.

“When you’re buying a bunch of things online and having those things shipped to you, you’re more likely to fall for something that was made to look like it came from the post office,” Collins said.

Computer owners without up-to-date antivirus software can end up downloading malware that records and transmits financial data.

Collins recommends using credit cards for online purchases (and only on secure “https://” sites) because they offer more consumer protection than debit cards, which, if compromised, can give someone “a direct pipeline into your checking account.”

Collins said he believes the best early-warning device, the one often ignored, is the gut feeling.

“I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone who has been victimized say, ‘You know, it didn’t feel right, but I did it anyway.’”

 

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com.

MORE HOLIDAY SAFETY TIPS

Don’t advertise big purchases: Just bought a 70-inch TV? Don’t set the box on the curb with your trash. Shred it and bag it.

Limit your wallet/purse size: Do you really need every credit card you own in your wallet? And how about switching from a purse to a more discrete travel pouch?

Shop safely: Shop during the day whenever possible and always try to shop in pairs at night. Don’t leave valuables in your car in plain sight.

Be wary of strangers approaching you: Con artists may be trying to distract you while one of their team members steal your money or belongings.

Mark expensive purchases: Use an engraver or permanent marker to write your name, phone number and drivers license on the back of TVs and stereos. It makes it easier to get them back when the thief attempts to pawn or sell it.

Fight porch pirates: If you do a lot of online shopping, consider investing in a lock box to secure packages or arrange to have the purchase shipped directly to the store for pick-up.

Source: Better Business Bureau; staff research

 

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