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'Tis the holiday season, and along with all the traditional giving to family, friends and people in need comes the scourge of those who want to take advantage of the kindness of others. Or, just take advantage. Of course, scams and scammers assault American consumers every day of the year, spring, summer, winter and fall. But they can be even more cunning during the holidays, when shoppers are making more purchases with credit cards or ATM/debit cards. People also are sending gifts or money through the mail to loved ones who live far away; or feeling the urge to give money to requests received through the mail from various charitable organizations. Probably the most recognizable scams of all come in the form of e-mail solicitations. Usually, they address the recipient as “dear,” or just “sir” or “madame.” They usually are in broken English, and always are offering a fortune that one may collect by sending them back one’s personal information or, in some cases, checks or money orders. One I received recently to my work e-mail went like this: “We are obliged to inform you that after we have completed the process of releasing your funds to you, we now received a Death Certificate, certifying that you were death according to one Mr. David. Jones, who claims to be your representative, and he now requested that your funds should be transferred to a Swiss account he provided.” Fortunately, Mr. Simon Kenneth, the alleged writer of the note, didn’t believe in my demise. “Due to the suspicious nature of his claims, we therefore decided to write you to know if really you were dead.” How kind. In an effort to help keep Trimble County residents aware of scams that are in the area, The Trimble Banner is teaming up with the Trimble County Sheriff’s Office to provide regular information about scams that are in the area. This is the first installment; I am using it here to bring attention to this serious topic, and I hope readers will look for additional installments, which will be published on other pages in the paper – possibly with court records. This week, we’d like to warn readers of ways to avoid being the victim of identity theft or fraud. Sometimes, this crime is committed simply by someone watching over our shoulder as we carry out a transaction at an ATM. Thieves can take credit- or debit-card numbers and use them to make purchases on the Internet or cash withdrawals against our accounts. This actually has happened to me. I discovered one day that someone used my debit card online to buy $400 worth of flowers – and porn. It was taken care of with a phone call to my bank, but the problem was the money was drawn directly from my checking account, causing checks to bounce. Officials say 43 percent of cases in which someone obtains a victim’s banking or other personal information, such as a Social Security number, is by stealing wallets or purses. Considering 10 million people reported having their identity stolen, it is obviously a lucritive crime. In fact, according to the FBI, identity theft/fraud is the fastest growing crime in America. The Federal Trade Commission lists it as the fastest growing category of consumer complaints. And keep an eye on your mail. Thieves can intercept bank or credit-card statements, pre-approved credit offers, or that box of checks from the bank. There have been cases in which crooks have submitted change-of-address cards to redirect a victim’s mail. They may go so far as stealing the information from your home. Some more sophisticated crooks steal your information from transactions you conduct on the Internet. Of course there is the old “standby” of scamming you out of your information in a phone call. Now that we’ve brought to your attention the ways in which criminals can steal your information, watch for our next installment to find out how to avoid this crime.
Phyllis McLaughlin is editor of The Trimble Banner.