Seasons cheatings!

The hills are alive with the sound of scammers. Recently, the Federal Trade Commission issued a scam warning for National Pet Adoption Week. This season is the time of the year when many consider pets as great holiday gifts, but scammers see opportunity.

Well-designed websites or social media posts advertise pet adoptions [aka: purchases] as perfect family gifts. Stock photos display fake details, including mention of pedigree credentials and appropriateness for “loving” families. Knowing that pets with credentials can run in the thousands of dollars, criminals guarantee expedited delivery but require payment by Venmo, gift card, wire service or even cryptocurrency. Once payment occurs, the “breeder” is gone and the untraceable payment vanishes.

Avoiding this type of scam requires diligence and persistence, but it is worth the time and effort to ensure that you end up with the desired friend.

Begin checking local rescue or animal shelters online or, preferably, in person. Adoptions carry a small fee and, in most cases, the pet will be vaccinated and spayed or neutered. Research the adoption service or breeder. Check the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) for any ratings. You can also use an online search engine, adding the word “complain” or “scam” or “rating” to the name of the agency.

According to the FTC, your third step is a bit more complex. Check to see if a picture is a “stock photo” or a photo from somewhere else. Enter “reverse image search” on your web browser for how-to instructions.

Ask to do a live or virtual visit so you can see your new friend — strongly encouraged by legitimate adoption groups. Finally, use a credit card for payment, as it provides the most protection to you as a buyer. [You might also want to purchase pet insurance].

As seasonal holidays arrive, vulnerability to scams increases. Anxiety, maybe panic, replaces common sense and reason. Scammers call this being “under the ether” and count on it as one way to score big results for their efforts.

New on the scene is the fake data breach — a phone call, text message, or email notification of a data breach occurring at a bank, business, or service provider. Reports of breaches are frequent news items, so, the impostor message is not taken lightly. The intended victim — you — are told to call this number or click on this link to verify your identity or secure your account.

The message is convincing and may use language that expresses concern, alarm, or even a desire to help you stay safe. The criminal hopes that the nature of the message triggers panic [the ether] and you react by responding as instructed. If that happens, you are halfway into becoming a victim.

That seemingly innocent action acknowledges your existence and provides data, including your location and the kind of device you use. By continuing to respond, the criminal has the opportunity to convince you to provide essential personal information, such as a Social Security, Medicare or driver’s license number.

Protection requires personal discipline.

The first step is not to respond by calling or clicking. Notification of data breaches do not come on the phone or by text message and should not be treated as a matter of dire urgency. After all, your information has already been compromised by the breach [did you order credit freezes?]. The criminal already accessed your data and, possibly, data from millions of others.

In most cases, notice of a real data breach will not include callback numbers or website links. They will simply ask you to contact them. Notification of a breach frequently comes by mail. Regardless, never respond by using the callback number or clicking the link. Respond using contact information from a statement, credit card, or self-initiated web search.

In any case, don’t act with a feeling that your education makes you too smart to be scammed. Scammers are professional criminals who know how to rattle you. People with higher education make juicier targets, given higher income levels.

Questions, concerns? Contact me, egreenblott@aarp.org.

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network. He hosts a CATV program, “Mr. Scammer,” distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland, Vt.: gnat-tv.org.