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Be wary of scams - if it's too good to be true...

December 10, 2012|Bill Kohler

Predators come in all shapes and sizes.

And the holidays can bring out the monsters.

We hear a lot about scams at The Herald-Mail. Once or twice a week we receive news releases from police about residents who have been scammed out of hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars by predators who use the phone and Internet as their weapons.

We do our best to cover these scams and warn residents about them. To me, they always seemed like they were happening to someone else. Then last year, someone close to me fell victim to a scam and lost a lot of money.

A few months later, a good friend also had someone close to them fall victim to a phone scam. This person also sent a boatload of cash to a predator under the guise of trying to help someone in need.

This needs to stop. We need to get the word out so that these tricks won’t work anymore.

This summer, Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Adam Reed shared some basic information with me that could help slow the spread of scams and keep people’s hard-earned cash where it belongs.

I’ve also accumulated some other tips from sources over the years that are good to share with everyone.   

The No. 1 thing to remember: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Nobody gives money away. Nobody from the Royal Family of Burundi will ever contact you to help them clear a family inheritance of 3 million francs. Nobody is giving away $250 Red Lobster gift cards. Nobody is going to lose weight by eating the same bad food and not exercising. Nobody can pay off their house in four years by using some fool-proof system.

They all are trying to separate you from your money.

Here’s another one:

You get a call from a grandchild who went on a last-minute trip somewhere out of the country (usually Canada) and has managed to get into some kind of trouble. The caller knows your name and knows your grandchild’s name. They might even know other facts about you that they found on Facebook or by using a simple Google search.

DO NOT SEND THEM ANY MONEY OR GIVE THEM YOUR BANK INFORMATION no matter how much they cry and beg.

This is a scam. Hang up the phone and call the grandchild or grandchild’s mother. You will discover that they are fine.

Some more tips from Trooper Reed:

• Your bank or financial institution will never request personal information, such as a Social Security number or routing information from you via email or over the phone.

I never give my Social Security number to anyone. Some companies and banks ask for the last four digits for identification purposes and that is fine. However, I’ve been asked to give my SS number at the doctor’s office when I took my daughter in for a broken hand. Don’t give it to them. There’s no reason for them to have it. It’s just asking for trouble.  

• Before giving out your credit card information, make sure that you are giving it to a trusted source or business.

Pennsylvania Sen. Richard Alloway II, who represents Franklin, Adams and a sliver of York counties, is urging local residents to verify the charitable status of organizations that solicit donations during the holiday season.

“The holidays are a popular time for many individuals and families to support charities, but it is important to make sure these donations are really being used to help those in need,” Alloway said.

Alloway suggests that verifying the charitable status of an organization will ensure more worthy causes benefit from the generosity of local residents and fewer dollars are lost to fraud.

Consumers may contact the Department of State Bureau of Charitable Organization’s toll-free hotline at 800-732-0999 or the Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection at 800-441-2555 to learn more about a particular charitable organization or to report a fraudulent or deceptive solicitation practice in Pennsylvania.

• Reed also warned residents to be leery of a scam involving the online site Craigslist. He says to follow the guidelines spelled out by Craigslist when making the transaction and when dealing with possible buyers.

• Resist pressure. Legitimate companies and charities will be happy to give you time to make a decision. It’s probably a scam if they demand that you act immediately or won’t take “no” for an answer.

• Beware of “dangerous downloads.” In downloading programs to see pictures, hear music, play games, you could download a virus that wipes out your computer files or connects your modem to a foreign telephone number, resulting in expensive phone charges.

• Beware of sound-alikes. Some crooks try to fool people by using names that are very similar to those of well-known charities.

• Several utility scams are gaining steam across the nation. In one, the caller or emailer says you have to provide personal information to receive cash benefits to pay your utility bill. The other tells the victim that they are three months or so behind in their utility bills and they need to pay the bill now or their service will be shut off immediately.

Both target senior citizens. Both are bogus.

The theme here? When in doubt, check it out. Never, EVER, ever send any money to someone you do not know. Call some of the numbers listed above or your local police department. They can help advise you or direct you to someone who can.

Good luck and be diligent.

Bill Kohler is Tri-State Editor of The Herald-Mail. Reach him at 301-791-7281 or at billk@herald-mail.com. Get Tri-State news updates on Twitter at HMinPA or HMinWV.  

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