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Tips: avoid getting scammed this holiday season

Crooks love the holidays. Their immeasurable bad will is the yin for the yang of everybody else’s yuletide generosity and good cheer.

Over the years, cops, prosecutors and cyber security experts have been warning holiday shoppers that they better watch out — on the street, in the stores, on the phone or in the Great Blue Nowhere of the Internet.

“There’s always somebody looking to separate you from your money,” District Attorney Seth Williams stated Nov. 26. “The best course of action is prevention. Many thieves choose their victims because the thieves see an opportunity. If you take away the opportunity, chances are you won’t become a victim.”

Here’s a summary of holiday tips:

— When you shop, park in visible spots under streetlights, and don’t forget to lock your car, take your keys and not leave anything visible in your car. One little package or even a small amount of money is enough incentive, police have said, for somebody to use their “key” to get into your car. What’s their “key?” A rock, a bat, brick, anything hard enough to smash auto glass. There are thieves who stake out parking lots. They will notice if you make repeated trips from stores to your car. It’s not the kind of attention you want.

— Don’t think your car is immune to break-ins when it’s parked in front of your house or in your driveway. It isn’t. If you leave purchases in your car and that car is visible from the street or sidewalk, you might as well put a sign on your window that reads, “Come and get it!”

— Use ATMs that are inside, not outside and exposed. Put your money away before you go out. And be careful which ATMs you use. Stick to ones you’ve used already and avoid ones that might be dummies set up to get your account number.

— Use a prepaid card or a credit card when you shop, the DA advised. Prepaid cards have some of the same anti-fraud and security systems that credit cards do, but have the added benefit of keeping the shopper within a budget.

— When you shop, keep your keys and money separate. If somebody swipes your wallet or purse, at least you’ll be able to drive home and get in your house.

This year, consumers set a new record for online purchases on Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving. More and more people are surfing the Web to find their gifts. That, of course, means that more and more criminals are surfing that same Web for opportunities to enrich themselves at your expense.

Raking in the cash is the goal of any Internet con, so be wary of swell offers that just appear in your email inbox. Appeals from charities over the phone or through your email account might be from nogoodniks who want to get rich quick.

Free gift cards that seem to be from well-known retailers are a dodge that’s been popular for a few years now. Usually, they do nothing but lure you to a phony site in which you’re asked to give up information that will be useful to identity thieves.

Steep discounts on electronics should be red flags to consumers. Nobody is going to sell a digital camera for $5 or an iPod for $10. “There are dozens of fake online electronics stores,” Williams said, “that don’t even have an inventory, and they won’t ship anything you order. They’re only out to get your credit card number.”

If you’re approached by someone who claims to represent a charity, go directly to the charity if you’re moved to make a donation.

Williams advised against downloading phone apps from anything but app stores. Be wary of responding to emails. Avoid too-good-to-be true offers on social media from people you don’t know.

Best practice is probably to deal only with online businesses with whom you already have established relationships. Ditto for charities. “You might be tempted by amazing deals on sites you never heard of, but it’s safer to stay away,” Williams said.

If you don’t know ’em already, maybe you should wait until the holidays, with all their varied stresses, are in your book of golden memories before getting acquainted.

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