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Front Page » November 12, 2002 » Opinion » be careful of holiday scam artists
Published 4,371 days ago

be careful of holiday scam artists


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By KEN LARSON
Sun Advocate Publisher

Every once in a while it's necessary to remind our readers of the various scams that are played upon the uninitiated by the criminals of this world. There have always been scams but its seems with the advance of the internet and increased technology there are more and more unsuspecting people getting ripped off. And, as the holidays approach and the season of charitable giving is here, more and more people will be victims.

One particularly expensive scam currently taking place has been brought to my attention. Never respond to e-mails, telephone calls or pages that tell you to call an "809" telephone number. That "809" can alert you to a scam that is quickly spreading and can easily cost you a lot of money.

This is how it works. You receive a message on your answering machine or pager that asks you to call a number beginning with area code 809. The reason you are asked to call varies. It can be to receive information about a family member who has been ill, to tell you someone has been arrested or died, to let you know you have won a wonderful prize, etc. In each case, you are told to call the 809 number right away. Since there are so many new area codes these days, people often unknowingly return these calls.

If you call the number, you may be put on hold for a long period of time, or you will get a long recorded message. They will try to keep you on the phone as long as possible to increase the charges. The surprise comes at the end of the month when you get your telephone bill; you'll learn you have been charged a high price for the call. The 809 area code is located in Dominican Republic and can be used as a pay-per-call number, similar to 900 numbers in the United States. There is no requirement that you be notified and warned of charges and rates involved because it is not covered by U. S. regulations.

Here is another scenario. This year's most appropriate holiday gift may be a charity donation made on behalf of a loved one, but watch out for con artists. Most charity fundraising is legitimate, but fraud activity increases during the holidays because people are in a giving mood. Because con artists often capitalize on recent disasters, consumers still need to be especially careful when donating to relief efforts such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Even though the disaster was well over a year ago scams are still being conducted concerning these attacks. The very idea of this gives you a concept of how ruthless these people are, because they target well-known events where immediate help is needed. Fortunately most con artists are fairly easy to spot once you know what to look for.

Here are some suggestions to avoid getting scammed by fake charities.

•Stick with charities you know and trust. Initiate contact yourself. Legitimate charities maintain offices staffed with employees eager to hear from you, while con artists have to locate potential victims with roving in-person appeals, telemarketing and mailing. Ask lots of questions.

•If you're approached by an unfamiliar charity, ask for the organization's full name, local street address, purpose of their current fundraising and how the money will be used. Ask for written materials and say you'll consider the request letter. Take your time. Beware of callers who won't take no for an answer, or claim they have deadlines to meet. And, beware of high-pressure tactics. Legitimate charities value their reputations and don't use dramatic emotional appeals.

In addition watch out for credit card fraud when you are shopping this season. Take only the cards you will use with you when you are going shopping. Make sure you get your card back after making your purchases. Be sure to take the receipt, including the carbon copies. Crooks who steal your cards or receipts use the information on them to make fraudulent charges to your accounts.

Watch out for bogus loan or credit offers. They are often pitches to consumers who need extra money for holiday shopping. You may see the ads in the classified sections of large daily newspapers, in supermarket tabloids, or bulletin boards, even tacked on telephone poles. If you're asked to pay a fee to get a loan or a credit card, it's probably a scam.

And remember if something sounds too good to be true it usually is, never send cash through the mail, and don't give your credit card number over the telephone unless you are absolutely certain the charity is legitimate.


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November 12, 2002
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