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9:09 PM Wed, Nov. 14th

Scammers ramp up tricks and schemes around the holidays

People can fall into any number of traps over the holidays and become victim to fraud, so local law enforcement agencies and consumer groups encourage people to beware of some common scams.

"While the rest of us are pulling the decorations out of the attic, scammers are blowing the dust off of their old holiday scams," said Matthew Fehling, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau.

• Always do your holiday shopping during the day, with a friend, and lock your gifts and valuables in your car's trunk, said Traces Gordon, crime prevention specialist with the Prescott Police Department.

• Keep your purse close to your body, carry minimal cash, and bring only the credit cards you'll need, Gordon said.

• Every year, some shoppers pay for a great deal online, but receive nothing in return, so the BBB encourages shoppers to check the business out with the BBB website at www.bbb.org/us/Find-Business-Reviews/ before you buy.

• Scammers will often solicit donations for bogus charities and use the money they receive for themselves, so always research a charity with the BBB Wise Giving Alliance web site www.bbb.org/us/Charity-Reviews/ before you give.

• Last week, Yavapai County Sheriff's deputies met a fraud victim in Wilhoit who learned someone used his debit card for two purchases from a Home Depot in California, said Dwight D'Evelyn, spokesman for the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office.

Deputies learned the victim had been visiting California on a regular basis and used his debit card at a restaurant where the waitress processed the transaction out of his sight and returned the card, D'Evelyn said.

The victim still had possession of his debit card, which indicates someone likely scanned the information from the magnetic strip on the back and created a duplicate card, D'Evelyn said.

To prevent this from happening, watch anyone who scans your credit card, because it takes only seconds for a suspect to scan your card into a special card reader and use the information later to create a duplicate card, D'Evelyn said.

• Also this past week, deputies met with a Cottonwood resident about a work-at-home scam. A woman saw a classified ad in a local Verde Valley-area newspaper placed by the ABB Group, claiming to be a collection company for Internet providers and offering jobs to help with these transactions, D'Evelyn said.

The woman signed up and soon afterward received two $2,200 checks that she deposited into her account, and forwarded the money as instructed via Western Union to the United Kingdom and waited to collect a fee for her work.

A few days later, her bank notified her that the checks were fraudulent and she had sustained a loss, D'Evelyn said.

• Also keep an eye out for phishing e-mails that hackers use to break into your computer and access your personal information. Common phishing e-mails include e-cards and messages pretending to be from companies such as UPS or FedEx that include links to package tracking information.

The BBB says to beware of unsolicited e-mails from companies you are not associated with and do not click on links or open attachments to e-mails until you have confirmed that they are not malicious.

• The "Grandma, I'm in jail and need bail money" phone scam continues throughout Yavapai County. The caller, usually based in Canada, tells the victim a member of their family has been arrested, wants to post a bond, and requests they wire bond money to a certain location to secure the release of their family member, D'Evelyn said.

Information to perpetuate the scam may come from social networking sites such as Facebook, so please share the nature of this scam with your older family members, D'Evelyn said.

• Any unsolicited calls from the phone prefix 876, or a notification to call this prefix because you won a prize, also is scam, D'Evelyn said.

The 876 area code is assigned to the country of Jamaica and your call will likely result in a substantial toll charge from a third-party vendor on your phone bill. Screen these calls or block this prefix if that service is available, D'Evelyn said.

• And, as usual, no one should ever give credit card information to a caller without verifying that the caller is from the business they are claiming to represent.

Recently, The Daily Courier warned its customers to beware of a scam in which customers are called on the phone and asked for a credit card number to replace the one that the caller says is invalid.

The callers prey primarily on advertising customers of newspapers. At least one Courier customer was contacted. The calls often are after-hours and claim to be from the newspaper's billing department.

Always call the business - in this case the Courier - during regular working hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., to verify the caller's story.