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Now that Thanksgiving is over and Christmas shopping has begun, it is time to think about consumer savviness. Starting today and going through the next three to four weeks, let's concentrate on ways to save time, money and hassle.

No period is more prevalent than the holidays for con artists. Aiming to steal our personal and financial information and to infect computers with malware, scamming crooks must be stopped before doing irreparable harm. Current holiday schemes and ways to avoid them are compliments of Sid Kirchheimer, writer for AARP.

- Reprehensible reports: If the (supposed) U.S. Postal Service, FedEx or another shipper promises a huge delivery to your front door, 99.9 percent of these notices are probably attempts to sabotage your computer with malware. For protection against this and other suspicious links in emails, type the company's web address in your browser to authenticate they are who they're supposed to be. Another tipoff that signifies a fake notice: It arrives via a free email service and typically lacks your name, a tracking number or other specific information.

- Scoundrel sellers: PrizewinnerContest.com, among other copycat sites, proclaims your fabulous winnings through search engine results or social media postings. "If you check the enclosed embedded link, you'll win an amazing prize — a brand-new automobile, a trip around the world, $5,000 a week for life Blah, blah, blah." These scams mainly concentrate on stealing credit card particulars or selling inferior goods (usually counterfeit) and that's a big "IF" the fraudsters actually send anything to the victim. To ensure accuracy, go to WhoIs.net to discover who owns the website; if any site shields itself, avoid it like the plague. Never provide a credit card number online unless the address begins with https://. (Adding the 's' is for security purposes.)

- Charity cheating: Many people give charitable donations this time of year more than at any other, whether for tax purposes or from the goodness of their hearts. Consumers also are besieged more by bogus solicitations during the holiday season. Using local "agencies," such as police/firefighter benefits, children's homes and the like or promising to assist natural disaster victims, too many cons tug on our heartstrings then proceed to rip off the funds we put aside for gift-giving. Unless you dial the verified number yourself, never provide credit card info over the phone. And the same tip applies to online giving; first, check the address and write it onto your browser. Always confirm the group's legitimacy at CharityNavigator.org.

- Giveaway gyps: "If it sounds too good to be true, it is." Watch out for scammers' attempts to install malware or to "phish" for your confidential information during the holidays. Promises of free vacations, holiday-themed screen savers and ring tones, among other ploys, grab your attention but almost always follow up with a fee request or a credit card number to hold the "reservation." Don't. Along this same line, delete any e-card greeting with a name you don't recognize and, for heaven's sake, don't open it. If you really want to check on its legitimacy, visit the supposed issuer's website, then type its address into your own browser. (See today's first hint.) For example, type Hallmarkecards.com/pickup/ecard.

Contact Ellen Phillips at consumerwatch@timesfreepress.com

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