Fraud Watch: Test your knowledge

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Regardless of age, holiday shoppers are targets for scammers, and nobody is completely safe from the relentless attacks. Here is a brief quiz that might expose some of your vulnerabilities:

1. When buying a gift card at local stores: a. Always pay with cash; b. Make sure its PIN number hasn't been exposed; c. Use it within 60 days of purchase; d. Never use it for items on sale.

2. Anyone demanding payment via gift card for anything other than merchandise from the company that issued the card is "always" this, according to a Federal Trade Commission official: a. A scammer; b. Urging secure payment; c. Offering a good deal; d. Saving you from the expense of fees.

3. How can you tell if a retail website might be fake? a. The web address is a variation of a known site (such as "walmart-shop.com"); b. No encryption or security; c. Prices "too good to be true"; d. All of the above.

4. A common holiday scam involves the telephone solicitation for fake charities. How can you determine if a charity is legitimate? a. Ask the charity; b. Look at its website; c. Use Charity Navigator or Give.org to research the charity; d. Trust your instincts.

5. Another common scam involves the sale of "letters from Santa" to children. According to the Better Business Bureau, why is the identity information of children particularly valuable? a. Parents may not check a child's credit record for many years; b. Retailers can't tell the difference between adult and child names; c. Children generally have excellent credit profiles; d. Parents are responsible for fraudulent purchases in a child's name

6. "Spoofing" a website is a common tactic used by holiday scammers. What is it? a. Theft of credit card data from websites; b. Putting up firewalls that block traffic and demanding ransom from retailers; c. Directing online traffic from a real website to a fake one; d. Creating a fake website that looks identical to the real one

ANSWER KEY

The only passing score is 100 percent — and passing the quiz still only provides limited assurance. Maintaining constant vigilance is necessary.

1. According to the Better Business Bureau, scammers will expose and obtain PIN numbers from gift cards, then replace them on store racks and wait for the cards to be purchased. They then can strip the value out of the cards, sometimes before the purchaser even is aware of what happened.

2. Jennifer Leach, assistant director of the FTC's Division of Consumer and Business Education, wrote in a blog post this year that the person behind the demand is "always, always, always a scammer."

3. "Any site can be made to look like an Amazon.com," said Michael Bruemmer, vice president of consumer protection for credit reporting agency Experian. He advises looking at a site's web address, using better-known retailers and making sure the site uses a secure encrypted payment system.

4. Give.org is operated by the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance; Charity Navigator says it is "the nation's largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities." Both groups examine the financial documents and profiles of charities to assess their operations.

5. "In those cases, you're sharing your child's personally identifiable information, which could be used for identity theft," said Katherine Hutt, national spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau. "There are very nefarious reasons for wanting a child's information."

6. According to Merriam-Webster, the word has its origins in a game called "Spoof" that was popular in the late 1800s. "By 1888, the name of the game had been made into a verb that referred to being tricked out of something," the dictionary publisher says.

Scam alert

Beware of phony tracking numbers. In a relatively new scam, criminals create irresistible online shopping offers. Part of the scam provides victims with fraudulent parcel tracking numbers. Often, the numbers are fake or the number appears to be real until "your" purchase never arrives or was delivered elsewhere. Protect yourself by verifying the seller independent of its website, ignore unsolicited shopping bargains, and always consider that if the price is too good to be true, there is likely something wrong.

Elliott Greenblott is a coordinator for the AARP Fraud Watch Network and writes this biweekly column. If you suspect that you might be a victim of a computer-based scam, call the AARP Fraud Watch Network hotline at 877-908-3360 or the Massachusetts Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at 617-727-8400.


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