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Sheriff’s office warns of holiday scams

The holiday season is right around the corner, but so too are scrooges and scammers seeking to separate the unwary from their hard-earned cash.

The season of giving attracts scammers who make contact via phone or email either posing as a family member who is away from home and in need of money, saying that they’ve experienced some sort of emergency in an effort to deceive.

Scanners often instruct their victims to wire cash or provide them with a prepaid card number.

Butler County Sheriff Kenny Harden said that scams extend well beyond holiday-related schemes.

“As a matter of fact, there was someone who got a call this week supposedly from Dish Network,” Harden said. “The person who called said that they were upgrading her equipment and that it would cost her $250, and that they would be by there Friday to pick it up.

“She called me and then she contacted Dish Network and they said that they were not upgrading and that there was nothing to that. I told her that if they did show up at the house to call us, and we’ll be there.”

An equally-popular scam involves fake charities, in which scammers use phishing emails, spoofed telephone numbers or door-to-door visits.

Scammers act as though they are working for an established charity, or an entirely fabricated one.

Though Harden hasn’t heard any reports of callers representing either real or fake charities in the Butler County area yet, he insists that telephone scammers in particular are in business year-round.

“There are people calling at all times with scams,” Harden added. “We’ve had one lady who lost more than $11,000 in the last month.”

“I would advise that if anybody calls, do not commit to anything over the phone. Do not give them any kind of information. And what I would recommend to do is just hang up and not even talk to them.”

“We had another lady to call last week saying that a detective from New York supposedly called and said that she’d won the Publishers Sweepstakes several years ago and her money was stolen, and that it was in Mexico. What she needed to do to get her money back was go to Walmart and get a Green Dot card for $1,200, and she would not be out of any money. We told her it was a scam, and she did not go and get the card.”

Thieves also manipulate Christmas gift cards, with scammers rubbing off security codes from cards while they’re still on store shelves and waiting until the card has been sold or activated.

A simple way to avoid this is to inspect gift cards carefully prior to purchasing them, typically by comparing them to other gift cards of the same type. Also, keep the receipt.

Safety during the holiday season is important not just online or over the phone, but in person, as well. Harden noted that the holiday season is a time in which burglaries and robberies are more likely to occur, though there are several precautions that can be taken.

“If you’re out shopping, I suggest you put everything in the trunk of their vehicle where it can’t be seen and not the backseat,” Harden said. “Don’t leave your purse or anything of value lying around where it can be seen.

“At your house, leave your curtains closed while you’re gone. And when you’ve unwrapped your gifts after the holiday and you take those expensive electronics boxes out next to the road, people know what you’ve gotten.”