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It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year For Scams

Most people face some degree of financial pressure as Christmas nears.  Our society has made the birthday of our Savior the biggest commercial event of the year.  While upstanding citizens may resort to tapping savings or taking on some credit card debt, criminals are on the prowl to steal your money to fill their Christmas stocking. 

This year online criminals are expected to have their biggest year ever (talk about a growth industry).  

Tips From The FBI
Here are some tips you can use to avoid becoming a victim of cyber fraud:
Do not respond to unsolicited (spam) e-mail.

  • Do not click on links contained within an unsolicited e-mail.
  • Be cautious of e-mail claiming to contain pictures in attached files, as the files
    may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders. Virus scan the attachments
    if possible.
  • Avoid filling out forms contained in e-mail messages that ask for personal information.
    Always compare the link in the e-mail to the link you are actually directed to and
    determine if they actually match and will lead you to a legitimate site.
  • Log on directly to the official Web site for the business identified in the e-mail,
    instead of "linking" to it from an unsolicited e-mail. If the e-mail appears to
    be from your bank, credit card issuer, or other company you deal with frequently,
    your statements or official correspondence from the business will provide the proper
    contact information.
  • Contact the actual business that supposedly sent the e-mail to verify if the e-mail
    is genuine.

The Scams That Appear To Be Most Prevalent:

Gift Cards
If you see gift cards being sold online at a discount, don’t be tempted.  You will likely lose your money, and if you receive anything it will be a fraudulent gift card that is worthless.

Phishing & Pharming
Do not click on e mails that you receive with special offers or discounts.  If you want to take advantage of a special offer, go directly to the company website by typing in their address in your Internet browser.  If you click on a link in an e mail you may end up at a website that looks exactly like the retailer’s site but is a fake.  After you make a purchase and type in your credit card number, you learn later that this was a clone site run by scammers.  Now, they have your credit or debt card account number and the ability to clean out your account.

Demo I Recorded On How To Check For Security Certificate On A Website

Do Not Log In To Bank Or Credit Card Accounts While Using Public Wi-Fi

I am really surprised how easy it appears to be for people to be able to steal log in information by hacking into computers using public Wi-Fi.  Just recently I read about a new program called Firesheep that allows people to easily hack into computers using Firefox as the browser on a public Wi-Fi system.  I know nothing about computer hacking, but continue to see countless articles of people being hacked while using public Wi-Fi at coffee shops, airports, and public libraries.   

Keep A Close Eye On Your Credit and Debit Card Transactions

Many people will be using their credit card more than usual during the holiday season.  This increased activity will put you at greater risk of someone using your card without your permission.  I make it a habit to check my balance every single day to be sure there are no suspicious charges on my account.

Theft The Old Fashioned Way

While it is good to be aware of the new means by which people are stealing money, we must still keep offline theft on our radar as well.  This time of the year is a favorite for thieves to steal mail right out of your mailbox.  If you are sending out gift cards or checks to a family member, drop those letters in a secure mailbox.  I am so concerned about this kind of criminal activity, I rarely use my home mailbox for any outgoing mail.  It is too easy for someone driving by to see the flag up and in ten seconds get their hands on my mail.

Another common sense issue is leaving gifts in your car while shopping.  If you drive a car that does not have a trunk, bring a dark colored blanket along to cover items so they are not obvious to someone walking through a parking lot peering into car windows.

Facebook Grandparent Scam

Of all the scams, this one was the hardest to believe that it really worked.  The scammer calls an elderly individual and convinces them that they are their grandchild and in a desperate need for money.  The stories vary, but most involved a financial emergency such as being stranded at an airport, a car problem, etc…  After being convinced that this was really their grandchild, the elderly individual is instructed to send several thousand dollars through Western Union to help ‘rescue’ them. 

A friend of mine recently lost $30,000 from an individual that called him purporting to be his Grandson.  By using his Facebook account, they were able to garner enough information to get him to wire $30,000 to Canada.  The call from the imposter outlined a terrible situation of a false arrest in Canada and being held on trumped up charges.  The money was to provide bail and funds for an attorney.  I have read about these scams and thought this could only happen to a very gullible person.  I assure that my friend is very astute and he was absolutely convinced that it was his grandson before he wired the money.  The authorities have begun an investigation but give him little chance of seeing any of his money returned.  What a shame.

Helping you make the most of God’s money!

James L. Paris
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