‘Tis the Season When Scammers Go Shopping

It’s a holiday reality. The more you shop, either online or in-store, the greater your risk of identity theft. (Mike Mozart/flickr)

While Tennesseans are using their hard-earned cash to buy presents for loved ones this holiday season, scammers are working equally hard to take their cut, as people make online purchases and venture out into the stores with credit cards in hand.
Mark Fetterhoff, a senior program specialist with the AARP Foundation, says one way people can protect themselves, especially during this busy season, is to limit their online activities at coffee shops, airports and other places that offer free, wireless Internet.
“We highly recommend that people do not do anything involving personal information, banking information, or shopping when they’re using public Wi-Fi, because those networks are not necessarily secure,” he states.
Fetterhoff explains it’s easy for hackers to access passwords, Social Security numbers and bank account information if public networks aren’t properly secured, and he says home networks are typically safer.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, credit card and bank fraud accounts for 44 percent of identity fraud cases.
Experts advise folks to be suspicious of phone calls or pop-up messages on their computers from someone claiming to be a tech support representative.
Fetterhoff says people have paid hundreds of dollars to fix what the scammer tells them is a software glitch, and he warns allowing remote access to your computer can put sensitive information at risk.
“Oftentimes, they say they’re affiliated with Microsoft, or Apple or Dell, or another large computer company – and they’re just frankly not,” he points out. “None of those companies do outbound calling or will put a pop-up on your screen telling you to call them.”
Other scams to watch for include notifications about winning a sweepstakes or lottery, phone calls from people posing as IRS agents, and requests to wire money to help a family member in a crisis.
The Tennessee Attorney General’s office wants to hear from people who think they’ve been victimized.
Fetterhoff also recommends requesting free annual credit reports to make sure accounts have not been opened in your name without your consent.