12/16/2013 4:10:00 PM Steer clear of seasonal scams
As the holiday shopping season is upon us, the Dodge County Sheriff's Office would like to remind everyone of the variety of seasonal scams that are currently on the market. They range from Phishing to Scareware to Ransomware to everywhere in between. Among the most common:
During the holidays, scammers try to steal money and personal information from unsuspecting shoppers. One popular scheme is when rogue websites appear on your search engine results when you type in the names of the hottest new gifts or even terms such as "discount toys." Promising deals, the sites instead steal credit card information, passwords and other sensitive data when you click on links infected with malware.
Also, beware of what's known as cybersquatting, in which crooks steal or slightly alter the website address of a well-known company to launch a copycat site. Their primary function is to collect your credit card information for the purchase of inferior counterfeit goods.
So when shopping online, carefully read website addresses before clicking, to ensure you're headed to a recognized and legitimate vendor. Once on the site, look for phone numbers and street addresses (rather than just email addresses and P.O. box numbers) as signs of legitimate vendors.
By taking gift cards off the rack, thieves peel and copy or use a portable scanner to get the code underneath the scratch-off strip. Then they put the cards back on the rack and wait for them to be bought and activated. By dialing the cards' toll-free numbers, they can find out exactly how much value is on the card. All's clear now for them to make online purchases or generate cloned copies for in-store use, leaving the intended recipients with worthless cards.
Your safest bet is to purchase gift cards from a store's customer service counter or website, rather than from untended display racks. If you do buy from a display rack, make sure the cashier scans and activates the card in your presence. And make sure you get a receipt to give to the gift recipient in case there's a problem.
An email claiming that FedEx, UPS, Spee-Dee, or the U.S. Postal Service is trying to deliver a package. Unless you provided your email address - unlikely, since many shipping forms don't ask - you can assume the email is scammer-sent. You'll likely install malware by clicking on the attached link promising details of the supposed delivery holdup.
Also beware of mailed postcards about "undeliverable" packages. They could be a trick to get you to make an expensive overseas phone call and/or to reveal personal and financial information. Area codes 809, 876 and 284 take you to the Caribbean, where the idea is to make you pay phony fees or simply run up a high long-distance charge that will partially go to the scammers.
When e-cards come from an unnamed "friend" or "admirer", that should be a quick delete. It's another tease to click on a malware-likely link. Even e-cards bearing the names of people you know should be suspect; they may be the result of a "botnet virus" that captured your email address. Legitimate e-card notifications should include a confirmation code to use to safely open the card at the issuing website.
Mobile apps are an easy way for scammers to gather personal information via malware, so download wisely - and only from reputable vendors. Cell phone companies will not reimburse you for damage to a phone because of something that you freely elected to download. The same applies to "free" holiday-themed screen savers.
Once again, unless you provided your email address to an organization, assume that all email solicitations with that charity's name are scams. Keep a close ear for sound-a-like names, such as the National Heart Association instead of the legit American Heart Association. Be especially suspicious of heartstring-pulling solicitations to supposedly benefit disabled veterans, police and firefighters, or sick or needy children (those conning causes most often target older donors).
www.AARP.org contributed to this article. Any questions, comments, or additional concerns, please contact Deputy Jeff Brion #3132 of the Dodge County Sheriff's Office at (507) 635-6215 or firstname.lastname@example.org