By Elliott Greenblott

The final stretch. A few remaining days of Christmas shopping and a few more tips for safety from holiday scammers:

1. Beware of those on-line “Letters from Santa.” Many of these gifts for kids end up putting coal in your stocking. Scammers promise a letter from Santa along with a gift for the child who is on Santa’s “nice” list. All you need to do is provide some personal facts about the child, which might include age as well as your credit card information. Don’t take a chance. While many of these offers are legitimate, there are enough that are not and will cast a cloud over the holidays. If you want a letter from Santa and don’t want to do the writing, check the local high schools or community organizations. They often provide “Letters from Santa” for a small donation. This way you get your letter and provide cheer to a local resource.

2. Package delivery intercepts are on the rise. Protect yourself as well as recipients of your gifts by requiring a signature upon delivery. Another way to ensure safe package delivery is to register with the major parcel delivery services such as the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, and FedEx. You will receive advance notice of shipments to your address (year round) and can arrange for packages to be held a secure locations.

3. When shopping on-line, make sure the website used is the real website for the vendor. Con artists forge (spoof) web sites creating look-alike sites that mimic those of retailers. Check the URL (address line) for the website. For example, the site for Amazon is Amazon.com. Criminals may create a site with the name Amazon.biz or Amezon.com. Any time you are unsure of the legitimacy of a website, stop the purchase, close your browser, and restart the process.

4. Use credit cards as opposed to debit cards. Credit cards have a variety of safety provisions that allow you to challenge unauthorized purchases and do not require payment until the end of a billing cycle. A debit card immediately deducts the payment from your account and can require more steps when challenging purchases. Additionally, whenever using an ATM machine or a point-of-sale (POS) shopping terminal (self service checkout or the keypads that accept credit or debit cards) check for signs of tampering. For example, can you wiggle the card receptacle on the ATM? Can you insert the card properly without it jamming? Card skimmers and slimmers are everywhere.

5. Pickpockets are everywhere. Last week my wife and I were in Paris and approached by a group of teenage girls seeking signatures on petitions. As we were mobbed, my wife’s wallet was slipped out of her purse, to be discovered missing less than an hour later. In situations like this, the thief ends up with access to licenses, credit cards, cash, and possibly other personal documents. Be sure to secure your valuables whenever in public but particularly when in crowded locations such as malls or holiday markets. If you discover a loss such as what I described, immediately contact any bank or credit card companies to freeze, cancel, and reissue documents and cards. In venues such as malls or stores, report the loss to the mall authorities as well as law enforcement. (In our situation, we were extremely lucky. A good Samaritan found the wallet, called our home in Vermont, and returned the wallet. We were out some euros and dollars but that appears to be all we lost. At the start of our trip I insisted on creating an inventory of our wallets with contact numbers so there was no guess work as to what was lost or who to contact.)

Fraud Alert

Scammers are posing as the Social Security Administration claiming social security numbers have been compromised and are seeking to gain access to your Social Security number. Hang up! Do not provide personal information or payment.

The scammers may have a realistic-looking number for Social Security Administration on Caller ID.

Help stop scams by sharing the information with someone you know.

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and the Vermont coordinator of the AARP Fraud Watch Network.

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