Careful — Scams Abound During Holiday Season

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Police are warning Rim Country residents to watch out for the Grinch this holiday season — swindlers hoping to cash in on the giving spirit.

Con artists are using some of the same old tricks to dupe givers; sending a “winning” check and asking for money to cover the taxes, saying a grandchild is in trouble and needs help or asking for a charitable contribution and then pocketing the cash.

Even the police are not exempt from the schemes. Police Chief Don Engler received an official looking e-mail from a bank asking him to log in to his account and update his information to complete a transaction. The problem: Engler did not have an account with that bank and he never uses his work e-mail for personal business.

“That wasn’t too smart,” he said.

Engler notified the Arizona attorney general’s office of the e-mail and several other scams working their way through the community. One of the more popular schemes is the “grandparent scam,” especially in an area like Payson with a higher population of senior citizens, authorities said.

In this scenario, someone calls a senior and poses as their grandchild or a friend of the grandchild.

The caller claims that the grandchild is in trouble or has been in an accident and needs money fast. The caller asks that the money be sent via money order or through a wire service. And once the money is sent, it is unlikely it can ever be recouped.

Some thieves are using social networking sites to gather information about a grandchild, such as their name, age and family history to make their story sound more convincing.

Last week, one woman reported to police that someone had called her and said she needed to send money for a grandson. The woman was so convinced, she almost sent the money, but had the foresight to hang up and call her grandson first, Engler said.

Turns out, he was fine.

Engler says his office receives one to two reports of a scam a week. And anyone can be a victim.

A Payson town councilor recently received an official-looking check in the mail from a Canadian lottery. The enclosed letter said all the man had to do to recoup the winnings was send a check to cover the taxes.

The councilor called the company listed on the check and they said they were aware of the scam and had no part in it.

Again, Engler notified the attorney general’s office.

“Arizona consumers need to be extremely cautious about who they give their money to. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it usually is,” said Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne in a press release.

According to the attorney general’s office, phony lottery or sweepstakes prize notifications are among the most successful scams in history.

Most arrive through the mail and almost all have a ‘winning’ check that appears cashable.

Normally, the consumer has never heard of the lottery or entered to win.

The scheme normally requires a small payment for processing, taxes or asks for a bank account number to wire the winning funds directly.

If a person tries to cash a winning check and it bounces, the consumer is responsible for returning the money to the bank.

During the holidays, one of the more prevalent and despicable schemes is charity fraud, Engler said.

A caller claims they are from a charity and collecting donations. However, instead of giving the donations to a charitable cause, they pocket the money or use a credit card number to access accounts.

Engler says callers sometimes claim they are collecting donations for the local law enforcement department, however, the PPD does not solicit for donations over the phone.

“What is concerning is we start seeing these more this time of year,” he said.

The best way to assure a donation makes it into the right hands is to contact the organization directly.

“Choose the organization you would like to support charity wise and contact them rather than relying on a telemarketer to call and request the funding,” he said.

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