As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches — bringing with it Black Friday and Cyber Monday — and Christmas looms, scammers shift into high gear.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has issued several warnings about phone scams and robocalls. And, of course, there are countless online scams looking to nab customers’ personal information, from credit card numbers to Social Security digits.
A recent article in The Huffington Post warned readers to avoid “gift exchange scams” — including the “secret sister” scam spread on Facebook that is actually a pyramid scheme — bogus shipping receipts and “deal” websites that are set up to offer low prices on hot holiday items. Often, according to the article, these sites are simply there to grab a consumer’s money and private information.
Perhaps the ones to really watch during the holiday season are fake charities. As a web security expert told The Huffington Post, “red flags to watch out for include aggressive pitches and high-pressure tactics, names that sound almost identical to established charities and spammy emails.”
Even political action committees get in on it. According to The Washington Post, a PAC called Heroes United was calling members of a community in Maryland seeking donations for a local fire department. The plan blew up when they called the guy who does most of the volunteer fire department’s fundraising, and asked him to donate. The actual department doesn’t do any fundraising by phone.
Turns out the PAC was spoofing calls across the country making a similar pitch. During the 2018 election cycle, according to The Post, Heroes United raised $4.8 million. Of course, none of that money went to local fire departments, as those seeking the donations claimed. Oddly enough, very little of it went to support a particular politician or policy, either. Most of it, according to The Post, went to those running the scam and to pay the telemarketers they hired to pull it off.
Communication has been integral to human existence from the beginning of time. For just as long, there have been those who will use it to con and swindle, whether it be in the form of a fraudulent letter or a social media bot. Unfortunately, with so many platforms for communication and information out there, the opportunities for scammers become more pervasive.
However, the best defense, which has been around just as long, is common sense. Be wary of anyone trying to get personal or financial information over the phone, via email or social media. Check out business and charity names with the Better Business Bureau. Other online resources regarding charities include Charity Navigator and Give.org.
It’s a shame that suspicion is the natural stance regarding any entity seeking money, but it has become necessary.