Don't let scam artists rob you of Christmas joy

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

More and more of us do more and more of our business over the Internet, and it's not all buying baubles from China -- we're now able to order a pizza across town or refill a prescription using a smart phone app.

That means more of our money is zipping around as digital data and an increasing number of criminals are following the footsteps of Willie Sutton, who, asked why he robbed banks, supposedly answered "because that's where the money is."

New gangs of criminals, many of them in India, are enlisting the help of the family computer in moving that electronic currency from our bank account to theirs.

We've received numerous calls about one of the latest scams, in which unsolicited callers telephone local residents, claiming to be from Microsoft or another trusted company such as Norton, Dell, McAfee or the like, and offering to help "fix" security problems with their computer, sometimes for a substantial fee charged to your credit card.

Once on the computer, the scammers install software that will give them information such as banking or credit card information.

Of course, the tech support scam is only the latest type of fraud that comes in a variety of flavors. Others we have heard of recently include callers saying they owe money to the IRS that must be paid immediately.

Or, you receive a call from someone purporting to be a family member, hospital employee or police officer, explaining that a loved one has been hurt in an accident or arrested, and need your credit card number to complete the call.

Then there is the Nigerian money transfer scam, scams involving the sale of large items where the buyer sends a cashier's check over the purchase price and asks for a refund when the item is shipped, and various "phishing" emails asking for personal information by clicking on a link.

Some of the most common scams include callers asking for donations to a charity that sounds a lot like a legitimate one -- the "Childhood Cancer Fantasy Fund," for example. Hand over your credit card details, and you may get an enticing prize, such as a lottery ticket.

You may get a call telling you there is an outstanding warrant for your arrest, and you must pay the fine right now or list a jail term. Provide your full name, date of birth and Social Security number, along with a credit care number, and your legal troubles will be solved.

A caller says you've one a big prize, although you don't remember entering any contests. They only problem is, you'll have to give away a lot of personal and bank information to claim the prize.

An email or call may offer you a work-at-home opportunity. They only problem is, it involves a cash investment on your part, and once the money changes hands, the "job" disappears.

Perhaps you get a voicemail saying your bank card has been suspended, and you need to call a toll-free number to activate it. Don't be fooled into providing all of your account details, such as Social Security number, full name, date of birth, address, phone numbers or other information.

Most of us spend a lot of money at Christmastime, but with careful planning, we won't be paying off holiday bills next spring.

Let's make sure scammers don't get a chance to rob us of our yuletide joy.

For more information, visit http://1.usa.gov/1qVUFKP or contact the Nebraska Attorney General's Office at (800) 727-6432 or ago.ne.gov. Or, you can contact the Federal Trade Commission at ftccomplaintassistant.gov or (877) 382-4357.

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