The holidays are definitely a busy time for everyone: finishing off holiday shopping and wrapping things up at school and work before hopefully enjoying some time off.
But when you are busy multi-tasking, you also are more likely to let your guard down and potentially get caught by a scammer.
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Remember to be skeptical of any email or phone call that sounds too good to be true, or communication that is threatening to stop a payment or charge you a late fee. Fake texts also come wanting you to click on a link while you are busy to check on a package that the scammer says they couldn't deliver.
Stop and don't click automatically. Go find the real website or phone number yourself and check on something.
Avoid gift card scams
The Federal Trade Commission is warning against gift-card scams this holiday season.
Scammers want you to pay with gift cards because they're like cash: once you use a gift card, the money on it is gone, the agency said in a recent post.
But what do gift card scams look like?
Someone may call, tell you they're from a government agency and say you owe taxes or a fine. They may pretend to be a family member or friend in trouble, who needs money right away. Or they may say you've won a prize, but first must pay fees or other charges.
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In these and similar scenarios, here are signs you're dealing with a scammer, according to the FTC:
The caller says it's urgent. They tell you to pay right away or something terrible will happen. They try to pressure you into acting quickly, so you don't have time to think or talk to someone you trust. Don't pay. It's a scam.
The caller usually tells you which gift card to buy. They might tell you to put money on a Google Play, Target, or iTunes gift card - or send you to a specific store like Walmart, Target or CVS. Sometimes they tell you to buy cards at several stores, so cashiers won't get suspicious. If so, stop. It's a scam.
The caller asks you for the gift card number and PIN. The scammer uses that information to get the money you've loaded on the card. Don't give them those numbers. It's a scam. You'll lose your money, and you won't be able to get it back.
Visit www.ftc.gov/giftcards for more information.
Be careful of puppy scams
Are you in the market for a cute puppy? Make sure you don't get scammed.
Puppy scams remain consistently profitable for scammers because the multi-tiered setup allows them to convincingly go back to a consumer several times to ask for money, according to an update of a national Better Business Bureau study. So far this year, while pet scams in North America appear to be on the decline, consumer losses are expected to exceed $2 million. That total is down by a third since the peak of more than $3 million during the pandemic in 2020 to 2021, according to BBB Scam Tracker. Average monetary losses are climbing, the report said, with an average loss of $850 in 2022, up 60% since 2017. Pet scams historically make up a quarter of all online shopping frauds reported to BBB and are on track to be about 18% this year. Because purchasing a pet can be such an emotionally charged experience, BBB urges consumers to be on high alert for scams. Puppy scammers lure people in with fake websites and promises of cute puppies, then ask for more money for shipping or special crates. Consumers say it is easy to be swept up in the emotions of the moment when buying a pet and push forward despite reservations. The BBB Scam Tracker reports show that those who tried to purchase pets without seeing them in person, use hard-to-track payment methods like payment apps and accept extra charges like shipping insurance or special cages are at an increased risk of being scammed. Yorkies, dachshunds and French bulldogs make up nearly 30% of all puppy scams, according to 2022 BBB Scam Tracker reports. Consumers mentioned more than 40 breeds, however, meaning that buyers should be cautious when shopping for any breed online. Many bogus puppy websites appear and vanish quickly, hampering law enforcement efforts. Prosecutions in puppy scam cases are tough to crack, as perpetrators are often outside of the country. Still, law enforcement arrested a woman in San Antonio for her alleged role in 75 scams. She faces six months in jail. Here are BBB tips for researching puppy sellers:
See pets in-person before paying any money.
Try to set up a video call to view the animal.
Conduct a reverse image search on photos attached to ads.
Research the breed to figure out the average market price.
Check out a local animal shelter for pets to meet in person before adopting.
Here's who you should contact if you are the victim of a puppy scam, according to the BBB:
Better Business Bureau: BBB Scam Tracker at www.bbb.org/scamto report a fraud online.
Federal Trade Commission (FTC): https://reportfraud.ftc.gov to file a complaint online or call 877-FTC-Help.
Your credit card issuer: Report the incident if you shared your credit card number, even if the transaction was not completed. Monitor your statements and if you suspect fraud, ask for a refund.
Watch out for utility scams
Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp., parent company of Ohio Edison, is reminding customers to be careful during an uptick in reported utility scam attempts.
In particular, the utility warns seniors and small business owners from becoming victims.
While scammers work year-round, they are more active during colder months because they know customers rely on electricity to stay safe and warm and are more likely to comply due to fear of disconnection, said the utility. Scammers often prey on the fears of vulnerable customers to steal their personal information and trick them into paying "unpaid bills" to avoid service disconnection.
FirstEnergy urges customers "to be on guard against impostors who claim to be associated with our company."
To date in 2022, the utility has received more than 3,500 reports of scams from customers, including more than 800 across Northeast Ohio. The actual number of scam attempts is even higher because many go unreported.
Scammers continue to implement sophisticated tactics to impersonate utility companies. It is important that customers can distinguish between legitimate contacts from their utility and attempts used by utility impostors.
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Here are some tips:
FirstEnergy utility customers who are behind on their accounts will be sent written notice of their account status with instructions on how to avoid disconnection.
Utility impostors often require that you use unusual payment methods like digital payment apps, cryptocurrencies or money transfers. Only send payments to your FirstEnergy operating company using its established payment methods.
FirstEnergy field collectors working in Ohio may offer customers with past-due accounts the opportunity to pay their bill in person before disconnecting service. All employees carry company-issued photo identification.
Some scammers go door-to-door posing as affiliates of FirstEnergy and offer "special deals" to customers who provide their personal information. FirstEnergy employees and authorized contractors do not solicit door-to-door and will never ask you to provide a copy of your electric bill.
Scammers often use Caller ID spoofing software to misrepresent the source of a phone call to further mislead and confuse their targets. When in doubt, hang up and dial the phone number on your FirstEnergy bill.
Bad actors frequently pretend to offer bill assistance through programs that do not exist in order to steal sensitive customer information. Customers in need of assistance should view FirstEnergy's list of authorized bill assistance programs.
Cyber criminals may also try to steal your private information using malware delivered through texts and emails. Avoid clicking on any links or downloading attachments from suspicious emails or texts.
For more information about how to prevent utility scams, go to FirstEnergy's scam information page at https://firstenergycorp.com/help/safety/scam-info.html
If you are facing disconnection or having trouble paying your utility bills, the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) can help income-eligible customers.
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Beacon Journal staff reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter orwww.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ. To see her most recent stories and columns, go towww.tinyurl.com/bettylinfisher.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Here's how to avoid becoming a victim of a holiday scam