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Joy Akey, Extension Agent – Family and Consumer Science, Yuma County

The holiday season is upon us – a time that can bring out both the best and the worst in people.  One of the unfortunate “worsts” is financial fraud.  Avoid being a victim of a holiday hoax by keeping the following tips in mind:

Financial Fraud during the holidays

  • Do not provide personal identification information in response to unsolicited emails, “too good to be true” sales offers, or links from unknown sources.
  • Beware of “cybersquatters.” They slightly alter the website address of a well-known company to collect personal information and credit card information.
  • Make sure websites are legitimate. Phony sites may have “off” logos, spelling and grammar mistakes and sales offers requiring wire payment.
  • On retail websites, look for a phone number, physical location address and other contact information versus a post office box or just an email address. A “Terms and Conditions” link for return policies is another indicator of a reputable retailer.
  • Always double-check the URL of retail websites as well as your banking, social networking and email sites before logging in. Most browsers have a color change on the left side of the location bar that indicates the site is legitimate.  Type the URL by hand and check for HTTPS instead of the less secure HTTP.  The “S” stands for secure and usually has an icon, such as a padlock, that indicates the seller is legitimate and has security measures in place to protect your credit card and other information.
  • Verify a link by using Google Safe Browsing. (Type in http://google.com/safebrowsing/diagnostic?site= followed by the site you want to check.)  hpHosts, Norton Safe Web and Unmasked Parasites are excellent services too.
  • Use credit cards for large purchases. Protection is provided against fraudulent charges and shoddy or damaged goods versus that of debit cards, checks or cash.
  • Minimize the amount of cash, plastic and personal information you carry when shopping or traveling.
  • Donate only to charities registered with the IRS. Their 990 form can be checked at guidestar.com.
  • Never provide donations and/or credit card information to telephone solicitations.
  • Buy gift cards from the specific store they are for and those located at the register instead of at locations that have bulk card displays. Inspect them carefully to make sure they haven’t been tampered with, such as having the activation code scratched off.  A common scam is to take cards, write down the numbers and then put them back on the rack.  When someone buys and activates the card, the scammer can use the numbers to get free purchases and the person who actually bought or receives the card is left with nothing.
  • Get a gift card receipt for each card you buy. Include the receipt with the gift cards as proof of activation and payment in case a replacement is necessary.
  • If you use checks, write them with a uni-ball pen. These pens use specially formulated ink that contains color pigments that cannot be washed away in a check-washing scheme.
  • Beware of postcards for “undeliverable” packages. This may be a scam to obtain personal identifiable information or a ploy to make expensive phone calls.