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August 20, 2014, 12:30 pm

Officials: Beware of holiday scams

While law abiding Philadelphians see the Christmas season as a joyous time meeting with relatives and friends, enjoying holiday meals and shopping for special gifts for special loved ones, the city’s thugs are looking for their own kind gift giving — from your pocket to theirs.

And Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams and Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross said criminals looking for opportunities to prey on the unsuspecting and some can be very adept in their methods.

“There is always somebody looking to separate you from your money,” Williams said. “The best course of action is always prevention. Many thieves choose their victims because the thieves see an opportunity. If you take away the opportunity, chances are you won’t become a victim. The last thing that anyone needs during these tough economic times is to lose their hard-earned money because of a criminal.”

Williams said there are several new scams this year that law enforcement authorities are closely watching. Among them are:


Online Membership Programs

What it is: Scammers will use “rewards or discounts” pop-up windows under the guise of mainstream companies to get people to sign up with the scammer’s company and unknowingly give personal or financial information.

What to do: Be skeptical of “rewards or discounts” pop-ups. If you do click on one, make sure to read the fine print and subsequently check your credit card statement regularly.



What it is: Automated text messages that ask for personal information.

What to do: Check the call-back number on Google to make sure it is legitimate.


Small and Frequent Charges

What it is: Scammers will “test” victims, making small charges on their credit card to see if they are caught. If they go undetected, the scammer will later make larger and larger charges.

What to do: Review your bank statement monthly, and call the company if you don’t recognize any charges.



What it is: Scammers will capture keypad and card information when consumers input their PIN number at ATMs, gas stations, restaurants, etc. They can then use this to extract money from victims’ accounts.

What to do: Always select the “credit” option at retailers, gas stations and restaurants, even if you are using a debit card. By selecting “credit,” you do not have to input your PIN and you are less liable for fraud. With ATMs, try to use those at your bank whenever possible.


Going Out of Business Sales

Many companies are going out of business or are in bankruptcy protection. Be sure to check on the company’s policies. Many purchases are final sales, no returns or exchanges. Also check to see if they are honoring coupons and/or previously-purchased gift cards and for how long.


Gift Cards

As always, check for expiration dates and progressive fees. Many cards expire if not used by a certain date. Many cards add fees if not used by a certain date. The best gift cards never expire and do not charge fees of any kind.



Use a designated credit card rather than a debit card for online shopping. Most credit cards cap your liability at $50, whereas there may not be a cap with a debit card, which is an open invitation to your entire bank account.

1. Dedicate one credit card for online shopping only. It will be easy to keep track of purchases — and unauthorized purchases.

2. Your social security number is the key to your identity. DO NOT give out your social security number while shopping online.

3. Online shoppers must be vigilant in avoiding scams and protecting their personal information.


Specific Holiday Themed Scams

  • Name a Star — Very romantic, and very popular, companies say they will send you a certificate denoting the name and location of “your star”and promising to enter it into a star registry. However, only the International Astronomical Union names stars, and they are not for sale. The International Astronomical Union is not going to enter “your star” into the official IAU catalog.
  • Fake Charities – Reputable charities DO NOT solicit online.
  • Unsolicited Bulk E-mail Solicitations – It is not worth the risk of opening yourself up to possible scam artists.
  • Instant Credit Offers
  • Free Travel Vacations