Public warned about holiday scams

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BENNINGTON — "If it's too good to be true, it probably is."

The public is being reminded of this old adage during the holiday season, as agencies are calling attention to holiday scams and other forms of consumer fraud.

"We're very concerned about consumer fraud during this time of year," Dave Reville, associate state director for communications of AARP Vermont, said Tuesday.

Crooked individuals use many avenues to carry out nefarious schemes — from cold calling cell phones, sending bogus letters or emails, going door to door, to straight-up theft. Often, the elderly are targeted, he said.

"For one thing, seniors tend to not be as tech-savy as younger people," Reville said. "They are also more likely to be home and less likely to hang up the phone. And the longer you engage with a scammer, the easier it is for them to suck you into a relationship."

One of the biggest problems are illegitimate charities, Reville said.

AARP's survey found that 70 percent of the people who donated to a charity or fundraiser in the past 12 months did so without asking any questions about how that donation would be spent, and 60 percent made donations without verifying that the charity groups were legally authorized to raise money in their state.

"It's important people check the legitimacy of a charity," Reville advised. "Make sure they're registered with the Secretary of State's Office. Ask how much money goes to the fundraisers and how much goes to cause itself."

AARP and other agencies also recommend that people require a signature on all packages, as delivery services are not responsible for something that's stolen from your porch or in-between the doors.

The state Attorney General's Office is also reminding people to steps to protect themselves from being the victims of credit card theft and fraud.

"If you shop online, make sure your computer is protected with virus scanning software — without this software, scammers may steal your credit card information as you make a purchase even on a secure site through malware placed on your computer at an earlier time," a press release from the office stated.

An effective and free virus scanning software recommended by the office was AVG antivirus (www.free.avg.com). Another program,Malwarebytes (www.malwarebytes.org), is effective at removing spyware and botnets.

The Office of the Attorney General's Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) helps Vermonters solve disputes with businesses, protect themselves from fraud and access available services.

Other suggested steps to protect yourself against fraud:

Never purchase online on a public wifi network or a library computer.

Never respond to an email request or unsolicited phone call that asks for your password or other sensitive information — this is almost certainly a scam.

Check your credit card statements closely for suspicious charges and notify your bank immediately if you see any.

If you do not plan to buy a car or a house, or get a new credit card any time soon, consider requesting credit freezes to stop scammers from ordering cards in your name. More information on getting a credit freeze can be found here: www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs.

Check your credit reports for suspicious accounts. You can order one report free each year from each of the three credit reporting agencies. Go here to order your credit report: www.annualcreditreport.com.

Anyone who sees something suspicious and is unsure what to do should contact CAP at 800-649-2424 or 802-656-3183.

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979


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