Law enforcement: Holidays are busy season for scammers

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Dec 5, 2017 at 6:28 PM

With Christmas around the corner, law enforcement agencies in the region are urging locals to keep an eye out for scams.

According to the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance Division of Consumer Affairs, scammers often use holidays to “prey on the good nature of others.”

Some of the most common holiday scams include fake charities, according to TDCI spokesman Kevin Walters.

“The charity scams tend to get a lot of play,” Walters said. “This time of year, when people are giving and in more of generous spirit, they see an opportunity to take advantage of people.”

Technology, according to Walters, has allowed scammers to vary and tweak their methods as they continue to hone their craft. From phone scams to internet scams, scammers are always looking for new ways to make easy money.

They often prey on elderly people, but nobody is immune to a savvy scam artist. Walters pointed out that if a scam targets 100 people, it is often bound to fool at least one person.

“Technology is allowing scammers to be more proficient,” he said. “There are now a number of ways people can be taken advantage of. When someone comes to you from the internet, know that they may not be telling the truth.”

Since many scams come from outside the state, the most local law enforcement can do is keep people aware of different scams that happen throughout the holidays, according to Johnson City Police Department Sgt. Don Shepard, who said that even federal agents often can’t do much about scams outside the country.

The TDCI offers the following additional precautions to help Tennesseans fight back against scam artists:
• Be suspicious of anyone requiring you to send money with prepaid money cards.
• Be suspicious of apps, online advertisements, or websites offering prices that seem suspiciously lower than retail prices at trusted retailers.
• Consider paying with a credit card that offers fraud protection when possible.
• Only shop on secure websites. Look for https in the address (the extra “s” is for “secure”) and for a lock symbol.
• Stay up to date on the latest scams by accessing the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker.

“A lot of scams find a way of coming back after people complain,” he said. “They disappear for a few months and come back and use different methods, but a lot of scams come from overseas, so there’s no way to prosecute anybody.”

When it comes to making payments over the phone or online, Shepard said to be extremely cautious, and if something seems off — don’t do it.

“If you’re going to give private info over the phone, it should be you contacting your bank. It should never be them contacting you, no legitimate business does business that way,” he said. 

In addition to charity scams, the TDCI is urging Tennesseans to keep a look out for other scams that pop up more during the holiday season. These scams include various internet scams such as UPS phishing scams, banking phishing scams, E-card scams and fake holiday job scams.

When it comes to charitable giving, remember:
• Don’t assume that charity recommendations on social media platforms or blogs have already been vetted. Research the charity yourself.
• Find out what percentage of your donation will go to the charity and whether you will be charged any fees for making a donation through a fundraising platform website.
• Check to see if the charity is registered with the Tennessee Secretary of State.
• Be cautious when looking to give to charities that pop up soon after a tragedy or natural disaster.
• Websites posing as charities can sometimes look identical to the real organization. These fraudulent websites will often ask for personal or financial information over an insecure connection or may download harmful malware into your computer. Look for a padlock symbol or “https” before the web address indicating that it is secure.
• Avoid being pressured to make an immediate donation. Don’t hesitate to ask questions to get more information.
• If you didn’t initiate contact, avoid giving personal or financial information over the phone.
• Never write out a check or give cash to an individual solicitor. Write out checks to the name of the organization or use a credit card.

Two bizarre scams that often pop up are “letters from Santa” scams, where scammers mimic reputable companies’ personalized “letters from Santa” to solicit private financial information from parents; and family emergency scams, where scammers call people claiming to be a family member or friend in need of help.

Shepard said counties across Northeast Tennessee recently reported an increase in these family emergency scams, and in many of these cases, the caller claimed to be a friend or family member involved in an accident or hospitalized while traveling.

The TDCI recommends that you confirm who it is you’re talking to. Walters said people can never be too careful or assume the best about others. 

He said many of these scams are insidious because scammers care about one thing and one thing only — making money.

“You have to think about the people who are doing this. They don’t care, they just see other people as an opportunity,” Walters said. “We want consumers to be aware that there are people who don’t have their best interest at heart and we don’t want folks to fall into that.”

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