Saturday December 22, 2012

ADAMS -- `Tis the season for online scamming, which means consumers need to be especially vigilant while spending time on the Internet during the most wonderful time of the year.

Kathleen Luczynski, the senior vice president and chief information officer at Adams Community Bank, said cybercriminals are particularly active during the holiday season because so many people are performing different activities online.

She said social engineering sites have become particular targets. Popular holiday scams include fake emails from charities, and phony gift cards that allow identity thieves the opportunity to steal a consumer’s personal information.

"They send you an email pretending to be someone who is communicating with you legitimately," Luczynski said. "It allows you to click on a link or download an attachment for various purposes."

But consumers who access those links run the risk of downloading "malicious software" designed by the scammers that goes right into their personal computer system.

"Sophisticated hackers have developed it so the person doesn’t even know it’s on their computer," she said. "They’re just waiting for the time that you use your credit or debit card. They swipe it when you use it there."

Luczynski said Adams Community Bank frequently receives reports from customers who have fallen prey to these types of schemes.

"It escalates around the holidays," Luczynski said. "We’ve seen an increase every year for the last three years. People get more clever and more devious.

"The reason the holidays are so hot for this stuff is that people are distracted," she added. "They’re more careless about these things.

"Another thing they do around the holidays is they know that people are pretty desperate for money. Gift cards are pretty popular at this time."

To avoid these kinds of scams, Luczynski said consumers and businesses should never click on links or open attachments, even from friends, unless they are expecting a message from those parties. Phony emails often contain email addresses that are slightly different from the ones that a company, or an acquaintance might normally send. Scammers also tend to send emails at odd times, like 3 a.m., she said.

"Before you click on anything scan it over," she said.

The Western Massachusetts Electric Co. is warning consumers of a "growing scam" that involves telephone calls from potential thieves who claim to represent WMECo. The scammers are advising customers that their electricity could be immediately disconnected unless they purchase a Green Dot pre-paid card, and follow specific steps to process their payment.

According to WMECo, the callers have been telling customers that their electricity will be shut off if they don’t make a payment within one to four hours. The caller then tells the customer that they can only pay using a Green Dot card that can be purchased at local pharmacies and retail stores. A callback number is provided, and from there, the scammer walks the customer through the entire process.

WMECo customers scheduled for disconnection due to nonpayment of services receive written notice from the company that includes the actions they can take to preserve their service. The company does not require customers to purchase any type of pre-paid card to pay their bill.

Customers who suspect someone is making a false claim about being a WMECo representative, should call the company at 1-877-OK WMECO.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com
or (413) 496-6224