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Our View: Avoid despicable scams this holiday season | COMMENTARY

There’s little worse than scams targeting the elderly. Except maybe scams targeting the elderly around the holidays. We reported on one such scam last week.

A Virginia man was arrested in connection with a deception scheme that allegedly tried to bilk a Sykesville resident out of nearly $40,000, according to the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office. The incident began when a woman received a phone call indicating that her nephew had been arrested. She was instructed that the bail bondsman would require $29,000 in order for her nephew to be released and the victim complied. A male suspect, described in the news release as a separate suspect working with the caller, arrived at her residence in Sykesville later that day and collected the cash.

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The next day, the woman received another phone call indicating that an additional $10,000 would be required and she returned to the bank to obtain the additional money. According to the release, a bank teller questioned the unusual number of withdrawals and contacted the sheriff’s office. When a male believed to be the same male who had collected the cash Friday returned to the Sykesville residence to obtain the additional money Saturday, at approximately 1:55 p.m., sheriff’s office detectives placed the man under arrest, facing faces six charges, including felony counts of theft of between $25,000 and $100,000 and theft scheme of between $25,000 and $100,000.

Ironically, the day after that story appeared in the Times, we ran a letter to the editor from a Westminster resident detailing another common scheme. In this one, the letter-writer said her email was hacked and a thousand or so contacts received a “sophisticated scam message” making a request for financial assistance by purchasing iTunes gift cards. Many friends and relatives, trying to help, purchased the gift cards, providing the scammers with hundreds of dollars, according to the letter. While this one didn’t necessarily target older people, the gift card angle is common before Christmas.

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As the AARP website points out, while holiday celebrations will look different in 2020 because of the pandemic, one tradition isn’t going away. “Sadly, ‘tis still the season for scams, as cybercrooks cook up schemes to exploit our holiday habits.” Most of the scams are variations on everyday frauds, the site says, ramped up to match seasonal spikes in spending and web traffic, often centering on shopping. AARP recommends users not assume a website is safe because it shows signs of encryption, never to make a purchase or donate to a charity while using a public Wi-Fi network, and not to make a purchase or donation if a website or caller seeks payment by wire transfer, gift card or prepaid card.

The sheriff’s office offers the following tips to avoid scams, near the holidays or anytime:

· Never click on a link in a questionable communication. This includes text and email.

· Never provide any personal information on an unverified website or unusual phone call or if the request is unexpected.

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• If a text/email/phone call seems legitimate, contact customer service using phone numbers or websites previously provided by the business.

• Scammers can manipulate caller ID and website addresses to appear legitimate. Always use known phone numbers and websites to access your accounts.

• When a call/text/email is unexpected, creates a sense of urgency, and requests personal information or immediate payment, it is a warning sign. Do more research before taking any action.

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