With the number of ways to be scammed today, spending money during the holiday season brings even more reason to watch your wallet.
The holidays, in addition to big shopping events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, are field days for cyber criminals.
From online shopping scams to corrupt e-mail links, Wi-Fi hotspot risks, gift card cons and charity frauds — people should be wary whenever they’re spending money online, through email or by phone.
Greene County Sheriff Greg Seeley said his office has received plenty of calls within the last six months regarding scams.
“The bottom line is, especially for the elderly, be very, very wary doing anything over the phone,” he said. “Do not send any money through credit cards, checks, money order, don’t give any bank information — if there’s anything suspicious, call your local sheriff office or police department.”
Scammers have come to rely on the elderly, Seeley said, because they’re on a fixed income and tend not to be tech-savvy.
“We got a few calls recently about an electric bill not being paid — and if they didn’t pay it, their electric would be turned off,” Seeley said. “People get afraid.”
If people observe anything suspicious, Seeley urges them to call immediately. Too frequently, the sheriff’s office gets calls about potential scams days or even weeks later, and by that point, it’s usually too late to investigate.
“It’s our job to look into it — call us — it doesn’t take that long and we deal with this stuff all of the time,” Seeley said.
In a recent scam that hit the area, a fake phone call was placed from someone posing as a family member in need of money to pay for an emergency. The caller asked for the money in the form of gift cards, with codes to redeem and use them.
Another popular scamming method takes a more direct approach. People show up at your home pretending to be someone they’re not. They may ask for private information or even ask to be let inside your home.
“If someone shows up to your house [and] asks for credentials, asks for an ID number, write it down and call us,” Seeley said. “If you don’t know who they are, do not let them in your house.”
Seeley said sometimes people want to get inside your home to look at your possessions and check how tight your security is.
Anyone who wishes to have a security check done on their home can call the Greene County Sheriff’s Office to schedule one.
“It’s sad that in today’s times, this is what we have to deal with,” Seeley said.
Hudson Police Chief Edward Moore said people should be cautious of anything that requires you to give up personal information.
“With the advancement of technology, the sophistication of the scams is picking up,” he said. “People have to educate themselves about different ways people can get their information.”
Moore hasn’t observed any particular trend in scams recently, he said, but they seem to pick up around the holiday season.
For people looking to donate to charity, doing research on the organization first or calling the state attorney general’s office to see if it’s registered can help them feel more secure.
“People have the ability to research that they didn’t have before,” Moore said. “Having caller ID helps, too. There’s many different avenues people can take.”
Moore said there was a report about a scam on Monday about a caller claiming to be from a company that services computers. The caller asked for certain information such as usernames and passwords.
The city police chief also recalled a similar scam last year around the holiday season where the caller pretended to represent Microsoft and told the potential victim they have a problem with their computer. After giving away passwords, the caller then got into the computer and locked it, which made it seem like something else was wrong. The caller then asked for a money order to “fix” the computer.
“In essence, the computer was being held hostage,” Moore said.
The police department spoke with the woman while she was on her way to Wal-Mart to get the money order. Moore said they convinced her to stop and report the scam.
“They’re going to come at you from every angle,” Moore said. “People are going to have to be on their toes.”
Federal agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Trade Commission provide the public with tips to help prevent becoming a victim of fraud.
The IRS has an online tool on its website you can use to see if a charity service or nonprofit organization is legitimate before making a donation.
To reach reporter Anthony Fiducia, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2309 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.