Community Roll Call

Members of the Wauwatosa Police Department's Community Support Division, with backup provided by the folks at, are now blogging. We will be providing you with an ongoing series of crime prevention tips, any current crime trends as well as pertinent news and notes as it relates to your Police Department.

Christmas / Holiday Season Scams

Crime Prevention, Identity Theft, Internet Safety, Shopping, Theft, Holiday Safety

1.      Dubious Web Merchants. Each holiday season features an item so desirable that many store shelves are quickly emptied of it. To exploit scarcity, scammers set up websites offering this product, as do dishonest online auction sellers.

After raking in the money, the scammers shut down their "stores" and disappear. If you're "lucky," you are simply left with no gift item. If you're unlucky, you are further victimized by a phishing scam.

2.      Phishing Scam, run by someone who will use your credit card information to charge more products and services to your account and/or sell the information to identity thieves.

In most cases, however, phishing scammers launch websites that look nearly identical to those of larger, reputable merchants or financial institutions. Typically you're contacted by email with a tempting offer or dire warning, and then directed to click on a link, which takes you to a fake website. Once there, you're told to enter personal and financial information wanted by the thieves.

Remember, your financial institution will never ask you for any personal information online or over the telephone as they already have that information.

3.      Charity Scams. Scammers may pose as representatives of charitable organizations that are real (or merely sound real). At this time of year, their emotionally-charged appeals are more likely to sway normally savvy people and those with a giving nature.

Avoid "charities" whose representatives won't answer reasonable questions, such as how the money will be spent, those that will not send you printed information or cannot provide an address of a physical building instead of just a PO Box. Whether you're approached by email, telephone or in person, be very wary of high-pressure and those donate “NOW” pitches.

Never supply credit card, checking or savings account information via email or telephone. Don't write checks payable to an individual solicitor. If you've never heard of an organization, confirm for yourself that it's real.

4.      Gift Card Scams. Nearly every major retailer offers gift cards, many of which hang on racks at checkout counters. Today, most cards are protected by scratch-off security codes and protective packaging to prevent information theft.

If cards are not protected, however, scammers can write down the numbers while the cards are on display, and then call a toll free telephone number to learn when the cards have been activated and the balance available. After that, stealing is as simple as rushing to the merchant and or more likely, going to the merchant’s website to make purchases before the real cardholder can.

5.      Holiday E-Card Scams. You may receive an email from an unnamed relative, neighbor, or friend who has supposedly sent you an e-card that can be viewed by clicking on a link. Clicking on that link, however, may unleash anything from spyware and pop-up ads to viruses and Trojans. In some cases, nothing bad happens until you first download software from the e-card website; the software is supposedly needed to "run" your e-card.

It is highly recommended that you install antivirus and anti-spyware software and keep it up to date.

Special thanks to the folks at ScamBusters.Org

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