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By Phil Esbenshade
Assistant District Attorney Kings County District Attorneys Office 

Scams Increase During Holidays

 

Last updated 2/19/2020 at 11:43am | View PDF

April Pastis

Be on guard against spammers this holiday season.

It's the holiday season again, and once again, criminals are gearing up both old and new scams targeting seniors. Holidays and tax time are the peak periods for these scams.

According to the Senate Special Committee on Aging, seniors lose an estimated $2.9 billion dollars due to financial exploitation every year. Learn the facts, be alert, and if it sounds fishy, it probably is.

Below are just a few of the scams we expect to see this year.

Donation Scams

Natural disasters and other tragic events are prime scam opportunities for criminals to target people who want to offer support during the holiday season.

Natural disaster and major event scams usually start with an unsolicited contact by telephone, social media, or an e-mail asking the recipient to help make the holidays better and brighter for victims and others affected by recent tragic events and disasters.

The name of the charitable organization may mimic, or be very close to, that of a legitimate organization.

Here's how you can verify that you are dealing with a real charity: to find reputable, registered charities you can use the IRS's tax exempt organization search, which is available on the IRS website. Also, you can use "Charity Navigator," a nonprofit, to search and verify vetted, legitimate charities.

False Front Websites

Today, website design programs are free and very user- friendly. It is not difficult to download a company website, and recreate it at a different internet location. This occurs very often when booking hotel rooms and ordering merchandise.

Though many of these websites may not be scams, be aware as to whether you are dealing with the actual company or a middleman. It might be difficult to change or cancel hotel reservations if booked via a third party, and there may be fees or different return policies involved for merchandise.

As far as fraud, know that it's very easy for scammers to mimic real websites. Look carefully at the web "address" in the browser window. Make sure that the website address starts with "https" and that there is a lock symbol at the top of the webpage. Look very carefully at the spelling of the website's address. One extra letter, such as http://www.wallmart.com or a different web address should give you pause before entering any personal or financial information.

To be the most cautious, manually type in the official website address into your browser instead of searching for it on Google.

Letters from Santa

Another scam that has increased on the internet are websites or mailers offering letters from "Santa" to grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Many websites promise a personalized letter and greeting will be mailed directly to the child, however, some scam sites just take your money and never send the letter.

If that wasn't bad enough, the scammers now have your credit or debit card number. Look for reputable companies who have published reviews on websites such as Yahoo or Yelp to be the most discerning.

Romance and Dating Website Scams

Nearly 20 million seniors are single in the United States. No one outgrows companionship, love, or romance. Seniors are using dating websites and dating "apps" in increasing numbers. The most popular dating sites allow users to create a "profile," which is searchable by other users.

Unfortunately, scammers use dating websites to lure in folks seeking romance and relationships, and then take advantage of the situation. The most common scenario involves phony dating profiles and requests for money.

Most often, a senior (or person of any age) begins an online conversation with the person behind the phony profile (which is usually set up with fake photos and false statements about income, lifestyles, interests, etc.) The conversation usually goes well for some time, however, the person behind the phony profile avoids any in-person meetings.

The fraudster might send additional photos, or text messages, but will almost never meet up with anyone. The fraudster then presents a financial crisis to the senior, such as emergency bills, an investment, a short loan, or some other request for money.

Seniors, enjoy the holidays and all the joy that come along with them. Just keep your guard up, and radar on for those Grinches looking to take advantage of folks who have the holiday spirit.

 

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