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Cuccinelli Warns of Holiday Scams

By Katie Pyzyk - ARLNow.com

Wednesday - 12/19/2012, 3:45pm  ET

It’s a season for giving, but apparently some scam artists are instead using the opportunity for taking. The Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office is warning residents to watch out for holiday scams, particularly those involving false charities and phishing.

Some groups use names that sound similar to legitimate charities and pressure consumers for donations. They might also offer particularly touching stories in an attempt to garner sympathy and contributions. The AG’s office said many consumers who would typically notice the sketchy “charities” may be too busy or distracted by the holidays to pick up on the normal cues.

Phishing involves using deceptive emails or text messages to obtain usernames, passwords and financial information from a victim. Consumers might receive an email or text message from someone posing as a representative from a bank or retail establishment, saying the customer’s account has been restricted due to unusual activity or too many unsuccessful online login attempts. The scammer then requests bank account numbers, passwords and/or a social security number to reactivate the account.

Some consumers have received fraudulent text messages, emails or phone calls stating they won a gift card from reputable companies such as Target or Best Buy. Scammers might also say the consumer entered a contest at a store. Both of these tactics are used to bait consumers into providing personal information.

In all cases, consumers should avoid handing over sensitive personal information, and should never feel obligated to donate to a charity under pressure. Ask charity representatives who approach you for more information, and do your own research, the attorney general’s office advises. Check the charity’s website, along with resources such as the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance or the National Association of State Charity Officials.

If a charity is legitimate, it will accept your donation at any time and will not need to pressure for donations. Never give cash, and if using a check, make it out directly to the charity instead of an individual person. Do not use money transfer companies to send money to a person you haven’t met.

“My office is committed to helping consumers protect themselves from falling victim to fraud. When it comes to charity scams, especially around the holidays, it is best that people do lots of research and only give money to charities and businesses they can really trust,” said AG Cuccinelli in a statement. “It is our hope that all Virginians can enjoy a joyful and safe holiday season without being taken advantage of by scammers.”

You can file complaints regarding scams on the consumer protection section of the attorney general’s website.