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Pennsylvania Issues Warning on Holiday Scams

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As the holiday season arrives, Attorney General Josh Shapiro is warning Pennsylvanians to beware of scams and deceptive advertising while shopping at stores or online this year.

Attorney General Shapiro warned Pennsylvania consumers to be on the lookout for:

  • The Bait and Switch: Take retailers’ advertisements to the store with you. Unscrupulous retailers may advertise goods at low prices, but when you get to the store the price may be higher than advertised or the product might not be there at all.
  • Skimming Devices: During the holidays last year, police were called to a retailer at the King of Prussia mall to remove a skimming device from one store’s register. Sometimes skimming devices are placed on gas pumps or ATMs to capture data from the magnetic stripe on the back of credit and debit cards. If something looks out of place or easily wiggles, use a different ATM, gas pump or register.
  • “Cybersquatting” Sites: Crooks try to impersonate well-known websites by inverting characters or slightly altering the name of a well-known website. The copycat sites may look similar to the real website – and they can steal your credit information. Carefully read website addresses to ensure you are shopping on a legitimate website.
  • Copycat and Fraudulent Websites: Fake websites set up by scammers target online shoppers during the holiday season. Sometimes appearing as ad results in online searches, these sites may contain malware or steal inputted credit card data. Avoid making purchases from untrustworthy sites.
  • Security Certificates: To ensure you are shopping on a secure website, make sure the website begins with “https” and has a small padlock icon next to the webpage address. Keep your computer, tablet or smartphone up-to-date and install security software.
  • Retailers Who Request Payment through Wire Transfer: Legitimate online businesses will not use wire transfer to collect payment for purchases. This is a sure sign of a scam.

Attorney General Shapiro also issued a warning about gift card scams, which have been increasing rapidly in recent years. The Federal Trade Commission recently found that 26% of scam victims paid with a gift card between January and September 2018, compared to only 7% in 2015 – a 270% increase.

Although there are many types of gift card scams, the most common are:

  • Grandparent Scam – The scammer impersonates a grandchild of the victim who claims to have been arrested and in need of money to pay for bail or a lawyer, paid in the form of retail gift cards. Victims report that the scheme was believable because the scammer knew the name of and sounded like the victim’s grandchild.
  • IRS Scam – The scammer impersonates someone from the IRS attempting the collect taxes owed.  The scammer usually threatens arrest that day if the debt is not paid immediately via gift cards.  Again, victims report that the scheme is believable because the scammer may give the name and badge number of a real IRS agent whose identity can be verified online, may know detailed information about the victim’s tax history, or may send the victim an email that appears to be from an IRS domain.
  • Tech Support Scam – The scammer impersonates a tech support employee claiming to work for the manufacturer of the victim’s computer.  The scammer claims there is a virus and requests remote access to the victim’s computer.  After the scammer “fixes” a non-existent problem, he or she demands payment for the services and refuses to unlock the computer until the victim pays.

work for the manufacturer of the victim’s computer.  The scammer claims there is a virus and requests remote access to the victim’s computer.  After the scammer “fixes” a non-existent problem, he or she demands payment for the services and refuses to unlock the computer until the victim pays.

Pennsylvanians who believe they have been victims of a holiday scam can file a complaint with the Office of Attorney General Bureau of Consumer Protection at 800-441-2555, estafas@attorneygeneral.gov or scams@attorneygeneral.gov. To receive scam alerts from the Office of Attorney General on your Apple or Android device, please visit www.attorneygeneral.gov/Sign_Up_for_Alerts.aspx.

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