Scammers. You might think of them as the anti-Santa Clauses. They’re watching, waiting and given the opportunity, they’ll make their holidays bright at your expense. But, with good sense, and with some tips from South Bay authorities and the AARP, there’s help to stop you from paying for someone else’s holiday shopping.
The most straightforward advice, according to Gilroy police Sgt. Jason Smith, is to use a little common sense. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Smith said.
Phone scams are common, where the scammer uses “spoofing,” or fake phone numbers to make it seem that the caller is local. One of the most common types of phone scams is fake calls from scammers claiming to be from the IRS, threatening to arrest the victim if they don’t pay their taxes.
“The IRS isn’t going to come to your house and arrest you for not paying taxes,” Smith said. “No government agency or legitimate business is going to request or demand payment in gift cards. When in doubt, you can always ask for a callback phone number and let them know you will be contacting your local police department to verify the validity of their call.”
For bargain hunters, Craigslist, the internet’s unofficial garage sale, can be a great place to find anything from lawn chairs, kittens, places to live or even jobs. It’s also a good place for scammers to stalk their prey.
An example of a common Craigslist scam happens when a distant person sends the victim a real-looking check for a job, apartment or any other service. The scammer then instructs the victim to cash the check, keep half, and send the other half back to the scammer. Only when the victim sends the scammer their part of the money does the bank discover the check is fake, leaving the victim on the hook for the missing money.
“I would suggest to always meet in person in a visible public area to make an exchange of goods; only accept a cash payment,” Smith said.
Since the ’50s the AARP has fought to advance and protect the interest of older Americans, who are often the target of scammers.
As online purchases soar during the Christmas shopping season, online scams increase as well. The AARP warns customers to avoid steeply discounted items meant lure shoppers into fake online sales and to always rely on popular websites with strong safety records.
Seasonal job seekers are also often the targets of scammers, and since more than 500,000 people take seasonal jobs, there are plenty of targets. Scammers will pose as potential employees, using fake websites to gather the victim’s personal information to steal their identity. The biggest red flag are jobs that offer a lot of money for very little work. If the job looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Holiday travelers are another target of scammers who use copied photos and details of rental properties on third-party websites to book fake rentals. The AARP recommends never paying for a rental until you see it yourself and always verifying the listing with hotels directly before booking.
In winter, scammers claiming to be from utility companies use threats of shutting off power, water or heat unless the victim pays up. Scammers will insist that the victim did not pay their bill, and through fear tactics, they can extract money or personal information. The AARP recommends that potential victims hang up immediately when they get these calls and to call their utility provider to confirm their billing status.
This article originally appeared in San Jose Inside/Metro Silicon Valley’s sister publication, the Gilroy Dispatch.