It’s the most wonderful time of the year, yet it’s important that you don’t let the holidays get too stressful, and especially for the elderly members of your family. It only takes a moment to go from chestnuts roasting on an open fire to the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. To make sure the Grinch doesn’t steal your comfort and joy this holiday season you need to be constantly aware of people who like to take advantage of you and your family, especially the older members of your family.
In Alabama, the amount exploited in online scams is over 12 million annually and the amount is over 1 billion nationwide. One of the largest group targeted in financial scams are people 60 and over. Scammers use a variety of tools to get your money, and you can be scammed from the telephone, in person, through the mail or over the Internet. The holidays are prime time for telephone and Internet scams because people doing the scams know that more money may be available to the people they target. If something sounds too good to be true, it normally is. Victims of these scams sometimes don’t even realize they are giving away their vital information, in fact the criminal emails or telephone calls sound so legitimate and emails are designed to look like they come from a branded accounts that it is easy to fall victim. The scammers have figured out how to dupe the system to dupe you.
Some of the scams you need to watch out for are online shops that offer luxury items at deep discounted prices. According to the Federal Trade Commission, anyone can set up a store online so you need to make sure that the store also has a physical address before you place that order. Beware also of pop-up ads that advertise these items because clicking on them will download malware to your computer and the criminals will have access. In addition, if the seller asks you for a wire transfer, a gift card or prepaid card to pay for the merchandise, it is probably not legitimate and is a scam. Scammers also are using fake caller id’s to get you to answer the phone, don’t give your personal information, financial information or send money to anyone who calls you out of the blue to ask you for money or to buy something.
If the Grinch does indeed steal your Christmas and even though it may be embarrassing that you’ve fallen for the scam, it is important to take matters into your own hands and do the following:
Call the police and file a police report even if you have been scammed online. Next you need to call the credit card companies to let them know you’ve been scammed, most companies have programs in place to help you with fraudulent charges. Call the three credit bureaus to let them know you have been the victim of a scam and they will place a fraud alert on your profile, put a freeze on your credit reports so that the criminals cannot open credit in your name and update your security software on your computer. Lastly, if the scam is through PayPal or another popular online financial software, change your password immediately and report the crime to the company.
If do fall victim to the Grinch this Christmas, remember it is better to report it than to just let it slide. If you do not report the crime, your financial situation can quickly spiral out of control, and before you know it all of your money will be gone or your credit will be ruined because the scammers stole your identity.
The Attorney General is an advocate in helping victims of financial crimes, and I will work to continue to protect consumers and your financial information from online scammers.
Alice Martin is the former United States Attorney for Northern Alabama (2001-2009) and former Chief Deputy Attorney General for Alabama (2015-2017). She is running for Alabama Attorney General.
Contact: Alice Martin