Anyone with a bit of holiday spirit can appreciate a downloadable dancing elf, talking Rudolf or Santa Claus screensaver. But sometimes these things can harbor damaging software that can infect your computer with a virus, worm, Trojan or other malicious software. Some holiday-themed downloads can put you at risk for identity theft and fraudulent activity. Always carefully scrutinize anything sent to you in an e-mail. Well meaning friends can even send you harmful links not knowing there is a problem.
Who doesn’t enjoy receiving a colorful e-card with animations and such? E-cards are a very popular way to send holiday wishes to friends and family but if it does not come from a reputable source it can contain harmful malware. There are some ways you can weed out dangerous software in an e-mail. Look for your name on the greeting, look for spelling errors, look for the URL associated with any link contained in the greeting, and only go to sites you trust. As always, open a new browser tab or window and type the URL in the address bar instead of following a link contained in the greeting. E-cards are a great way to spread holiday cheer, just use a little caution when the card looks strange or is from someone you don’t know.
Another scam that is common at holiday time is the gift card scam. A thief will get the information from gifts cards on the shelf at popular stores and periodically check online to see if they have been activated. Once they see the card has been activated they use the card info to shop online. Bogus gift cards may also be sold on the internet. People buy these cards only to find they have little or no value. Always buy gift cards at the retailer’s store and get them from the back of the stack. Never buy gift cards from online auctions.
Every year there is a popular item that seems to be the must have gift of the year. Many online auction sites will have these items listed for sale. Always check out the seller carefully before buying anything at an online auction. If the price seems too good to be true, it most likely is. Also beware of low auction or “buy it now” prices that have unreasonable shipping or handling charges. When you do make a purchase, use a credit card with fraud protection or a reputable online payment company.
We’ve all seen the people outside the door of your favorite supermarket or department store seeking donations for some seemingly worthy cause. During the holidays the number of these solicitors increases dramatically. Some are well known, reputable charities, however many more are obscure, not well-known causes. Some of them are an outright fraud! Before you give to any such solicitor check to see that they have a business license and solicitor permit issued by the city in which they are soliciting. Charitable solicitors are also required to provide financial information about how the money (and how much of your donation) is used to support the cause, their charitable organization information (such as the name and address of the principal officer), and how much of your donation is tax deductable. They are also required to be able to provide a receipt for your donation.
Some crooks will take out ads looking for “holiday help” and offer jobs that seem really enticing. Often they will offer to advance “earnings” to you by sending a check and asking you to return the “extra” money. This is an attempt to get you to cash a bogus check and can get you in trouble. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
With a little care and some attention to detail we can all avoid being victims of a holiday scam. Have a happy holiday season!
Community Service Officer John Thomas is a long time resident of Temecula and is a Crime Prevention Officer with the Temecula Police Department Crime Prevention Unit. He can be reached at (951) 506-5132.