By Phil Esbenshade
Executive Assistant District Attorney Kings County District Attorney 

New Scams and Schemes to Avoid this Holiday Season


Last updated 11/9/2021 at 7:52pm | View PDF

The holidays are here, and as sure as the chilly weather will soon be upon us, scammers will be resurfacing and cooking up creative ways to separate us from our money.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, devastating fires, and other world events over the past year, Kings County District Attorney Keith Fagundes and the Kings County D.A. staff have been pounding the pavement, both in person and electronically, to provide increased awareness to our community members about novel approaches scammers are taking to deceive and steal.

Phony COVID-19 home test kits, nonexistent gift cards for seniors, auto warranty extensions and other scams have been permeating telephone lines, cell phones and email inboxes this year. The arrival of the holidays will certainly compound the situation.

Awareness is the key to avoiding deceptive scams. Fraudsters prey on folks filled with holiday spirit through calls, texts, and emails. Here are just a few of the newest scams to look out for this year:

Fake Charities: Calls, text messages, or emails asking for holiday donations for firefighters and military personnel have been increasing and are likely to be quite prevalent this holiday season.

The majority of legitimate solicitations for police or fire service organizations are usually made by professional fundraisers who would never request or demand personal identifying information such as date of birth, social security number or financial account information. If unsure, get a phone number from the charity, verify with your local fire or police agency, and call the charity back. If it's a scam, your call will most certainly go to a disconnected number or an answering machine.

Above all, don't provide the caller with your personal identifying information such as your date of birth or social security number, and consider supporting your law enforcement and fire at the local level. That way you know exactly where your money is going.

Gift Card Scams: The most frequently seen new scam out there involves a call, email or text message requesting that you purchase certain gift cards for donation to some purported cause. This scam is increasingly popular (and quite effective) as gift cards are so prevalent and easy to buy.

The caller cites a charitable cause (fire relief, for example) or tells you that you owe money to the government or a public utility, and asks you to purchase specific gift cards (Walmart, Applebee's, BestBuy, etc.), and then provide the gift card number and PIN through a text or email. These types of requests are a guaranteed scam, especially if the caller stresses the urgency of the situation.

The bottom line here is that no government agency, public utility, or legitimate charity will ever insist that you pay them with a gift card. Anyone who demands to be paid with a gift card is a most likely a scammer.

"Public" Wi-Fi: If traveling this holiday season, be skeptical of "free" Wi-Fi. Most hotels, airports, truck stops and restaurants do offer legitimate free Wi-Fi to their guests, but scammers also broadcast Wi-Fi signals near popular points of interests and hotel lobbies.

Never download and install an application (also known as an "app") as a prerequisite to using a public Wi-Fi service. If you do occasionally use legitimate public Wi-Fi, it's safest to not conduct online banking transactions, make purchases, or use any application where you enter your password on that Wi-Fi. Even though the company offering the Wi-Fi may be legitimate, you as the user, have no control regarding the security that they use.

Package Delivery Text Updates: Another novel scam which appears to be increasing are text "updates" from scammers attempting to get personal information. This scam typically begins with a text message saying, "Your package has been delayed in transit" or "Your package is scheduled for delivery. Click here to set your delivery preferences." These text messages use official business names such as FedEx and UPS.

Avoid tapping on any link provided in the text messages. Look carefully at the link you are asked to tap: if it does not match the delivery carrier's website address, or contains numbers or symbols, delete the text. You can also press and hold on the link in a text message to see exactly where tapping the link will take you.

If in doubt, go online to a laptop or desktop computer and double-check your delivery status and tracking.

The Kings County District Attorney's Office wishes you a safe and happy holiday season.


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