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BBB: Slick holiday scammers as dangerous as icy streets

  • Special to The Eagle
  • Published Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, at 8:28 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, at 7:35 a.m.

Keeping scammers at bay can be a yearlong task, but it’s especially important during the holidays, when crooks work harder than ever to steal from consumers.

As part of the “12 Scams of Christmas,” here are three more schemes for the public to be aware of. Of course, scams like these can and do take place throughout the year, so you would be wise to stay alert for them after the holiday season is over as well.

Scam number 6: Stealing from shoppers

This may be less of a scam and more just outright thievery. Whatever you want to call it, the result is the same: You become victimized while you are out purchasing gifts for others.

There are several ways the unscrupulous can take advantage of the busy shopping season and rob you even while you are on your mission of good intentions. Here are four:

• Don’t broadcast the times when you will be out shopping, and away from home, on social media. Ditto for when you will be traveling out of town. Maybe most of those “friends” reading your posts really are friends. But some may not be.

• Close blinds or curtains or put presents where they are not visible from windows. There really are thieves who roam neighborhoods, looking into houses in search of unguarded gifts this time of year. Don’t tempt them by making yours visible from outside your windows.

• Security system signs and guard dogs deter thieves. Whether you really have either, consider putting up warning signs anyway.

• Shoppers should always stay aware of their surroundings. This means do not talk on your cellphone while walking to your car. It pulls your attention away.

• Women should never leave purses in shopping carts. In fact, consider leaving the purse at home.

• Always place packages out of sight in your vehicle, preferably in your trunk.

Scam number 5: Worthless gift cards

A favorite technique of thieves is to copy the numbers off of gift cards while they are still on the rack in stores. They may also scratch off the security number.

Next they will check online or call the card’s number to see whether the card is activated, and then try to beat the actual card’s holder by having an online shopping spree. When the cardholder tries to use the card, it is worthless.

Another trick used is the selling of gift cards online. Don’t buy them from unknown third parties either. There is no guarantee that the card purchased online from a reseller has any value.

Scam number 4: Shopper identity theft

Identity theft is not just an online issue. Offline shoppers can make themselves vulnerable in a number of ways.

These tips can improve your chances of keeping your identity secure while shopping in crowded stores over the holidays:

• Avoid “PIN peepers.” Keep the keypad shielded from others’ eyes while you enter your PIN. If the keypad does not have one of those shields on it, just put your free hand over it.

Don’t worry about looking paranoid to others. The nightmare of identity theft is much worse than any miffed feelings the shopper next to you might incur.

• Don’t carry a written record of your PIN number. That number should not be in your wallet or purse.

The same goes for your Social Security number. Keep it in a safe place at home.

• Don’t allow your credit card to be visible for any extended time. A thief can jot the number down quickly or even take a quick photo of it with a cellphone.

• Save receipts. Compare them with your statement as quickly as possible and watch carefully for unauthorized transactions.

The holidays are busy but don’t let all those distractions cause you to create an opportunity for a scammer.

Denise Groene is state director of the Better Business Bureau of Kansas. Reach the BBB at 800-856-2417 or www.kansasplains.bbb.org.

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