‘Tis the season to be cautious – beware of holiday scams

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 17, 2004

Baton Rouge – The holidays are a time to be merry but also to “beware”. As consumers search for the perfect holiday gift, a con artist may be searching for the perfect victim. Attorney General Charles C. Foti, Jr. encourages consumers to be on the lookout for identity thieves and charity scams during this holiday season.

Identity thieves don’t take a break during the holidays. In fact, for many it is their busiest time of year. General Foti urges consumers to take the following precautions to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft:

€ Be aware of your surroundings when you take your credit card out of your wallet. Someone may be looking over your shoulder photographing your credit card with a camera phone or writing down your credit card number.

€ Never give out any type of personal information such as your social security number or bank account numbers over the phone unless you initiate the call.

€ To make sure someone else isn’t making holiday purchases at your expense, keep a close eye on your credit card statements. Immediately contact your credit card company if there are unauthorized charges on your statement. Also, save your receipts to make certain the amount you spent in the store matches the amount you are billed.

€ Reduce the amount of personal information you carry. Consider only carrying one credit card to use for all purposes instead of several.

€ Make sure you receive a carbon copy of your credit card receipts. This will prevent someone from obtaining your credit card number.

If you become a victim of identity theft, take the following steps:

€ Report the crime to local law enforcement. You can also file a complaint with the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office at 225-326-6100.

€ Close all accounts that have been opened without your permission.

€ Report the fraud to the three major credit reporting agencies and ask them to place a “fraud alert”

on your credit report. This will warn creditors to contact you before opening any new accounts or change an existing one.

o Equifax: 1-800-525-6285

o Experian: 1-888-397-3742

o Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289

Also, during this season of giving, many people receive requests for charitable donations. While most charities are legitimate, some are not. General Foti recommends the following before you donate:

€ Contact the Attorney General’s Office at 1-800-351-4889 to see if the charity has registered with our office and if there are any complaints on file.

€ Ask if the company uses a professional fundraiser to help get donations. If so, what percentage of your donation goes to the charity and what percentage goes to the professional fundraiser? Charities that use a professional fundraiser must register with the Attorney General’s Office.

€ Be cautious of a charity that has a similar name as that of a well-known, established charity.

€ Don’t be pressured into donating. A charity that needs your donation today will gladly accept it tomorrow.

€ Ask for written information. A legitimate charity will be happy to give you information about the charity and how your donation will be spent.

€ Never give cash. Always contribute by check and make the check out to the charity, not the person collecting the donation. Also, never give out your bank account number or credit card account number.

€ Know that a phony charity may offer to send someone to your home to pick up your donation.

€ Ask for a receipt showing the amount of your contribution and a tax-deductible statement.