Tips: avoid getting scammed this holiday season

Ex­perts weigh in to of­fer ad­vice on stay­ing safe dur­ing the hol­i­days. 

Crooks love the hol­i­days. Their im­meas­ur­able bad will is the yin for the yang of every­body else’s yu­letide gen­er­os­ity and good cheer.

Over the years, cops, pro­sec­utors and cy­ber se­cur­ity ex­perts have been warn­ing hol­i­day shop­pers that they bet­ter watch out — on the street, in the stores, on the phone or in the Great Blue Nowhere of the In­ter­net.

“There’s al­ways some­body look­ing to sep­ar­ate you from your money,” Dis­trict At­tor­ney Seth Wil­li­ams stated Nov. 26. “The best course of ac­tion is pre­ven­tion. Many thieves choose their vic­tims be­cause the thieves see an op­por­tun­ity. If you take away the op­por­tun­ity, chances are you won’t be­come a vic­tim.” 

Here’s a sum­mary of hol­i­day tips:

— When you shop, park in vis­ible spots un­der street­lights, and don’t for­get to lock your car, take your keys and not leave any­thing vis­ible in your car. One little pack­age or even a small amount of money is enough in­cent­ive, po­lice have said, for some­body to use their “key” to get in­to your car. What’s their “key?” A rock, a bat, brick, any­thing hard enough to smash auto glass. There are thieves who stake out park­ing lots. They will no­tice if you make re­peated trips from stores to your car. It’s not the kind of at­ten­tion you want.

— Don’t think your car is im­mune to break-ins when it’s parked in front of your house or in your drive­way. It isn’t. If you leave pur­chases in your car and that car is vis­ible from the street or side­walk, you might as well put a sign on your win­dow that reads, “Come and get it!”

— Use ATMs that are in­side, not out­side and ex­posed. Put your money away be­fore you go out. And be care­ful which ATMs you use. Stick to ones you’ve used already and avoid ones that might be dum­mies set up to get your ac­count num­ber.

— Use a pre­paid card or a cred­it card when you shop, the DA ad­vised. Pre­paid cards have some of the same anti-fraud and se­cur­ity sys­tems that cred­it cards do, but have the ad­ded be­ne­fit of keep­ing the shop­per with­in a budget. 

— When you shop, keep your keys and money sep­ar­ate. If some­body swipes your wal­let or purse, at least you’ll be able to drive home and get in your house.

This year, con­sumers set a new re­cord for on­line pur­chases on Cy­ber Monday, the Monday after Thanks­giv­ing. More and more people are surf­ing the Web to find their gifts. That, of course, means that more and more crim­in­als are surf­ing that same Web for op­por­tun­it­ies to en­rich them­selves at your ex­pense.

Rak­ing in the cash is the goal of any In­ter­net con, so be wary of swell of­fers that just ap­pear in your email in­box. Ap­peals from char­it­ies over the phone or through your email ac­count might be from no­good­niks who want to get rich quick.

Free gift cards that seem to be from well-known re­tail­ers are a dodge that’s been pop­u­lar for a few years now. Usu­ally, they do noth­ing but lure you to a phony site in which you’re asked to give up in­form­a­tion that will be use­ful to iden­tity thieves.

Steep dis­counts on elec­tron­ics should be red flags to con­sumers. Nobody is go­ing to sell a di­git­al cam­era for $5 or an iPod for $10. “There are dozens of fake on­line elec­tron­ics stores,” Wil­li­ams said, “that don’t even have an in­vent­ory, and they won’t ship any­thing you or­der. They’re only out to get your cred­it card num­ber.”

If you’re ap­proached by someone who claims to rep­res­ent a char­ity, go dir­ectly to the char­ity if you’re moved to make a dona­tion.   

Wil­li­ams ad­vised against down­load­ing phone apps from any­thing but app stores. Be wary of re­spond­ing to emails. Avoid too-good-to-be true of­fers on so­cial me­dia from people you don’t know.

Best prac­tice is prob­ably to deal only with on­line busi­nesses with whom you already have es­tab­lished re­la­tion­ships. Ditto for char­it­ies. “You might be temp­ted by amaz­ing deals on sites you nev­er heard of, but it’s safer to stay away,” Wil­li­ams said. 

If you don’t know ’em already, maybe you should wait un­til the hol­i­days, with all their var­ied stresses, are in your book of golden memor­ies be­fore get­ting ac­quain­ted.

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