It's holiday scam time -- be cranky, be uncooperative!

Posted 11.18.11

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | The holiday season brings out the best in us, although can be depressing to others -- people far from home or working abroad, soldiers, and those who find themselves alone during this most social of holidays.

Christmas also calls out the thieves and scam-artists -- those scum-bags who climb out of their gutters not to admire the lights but to rob the weakest and least-alert of our neighbours. Already we have had several letters and calls about scams hitting local people, seniors mostly, via the telephone or Internet.

There's no simple way to stop these scams. Police and anti-fraud squads are alert, and there are public notices, but the scams go on. They continue because they work.

All the criminals need is one willing sucker, and the numbers are on their side. Make enough calls or e-mail offers, and some law of numbers will cough up enough victims to make the effort worthwhile.

A single foolish person can hand them a golden platter -- bank account or credit card details. Prosecuting the criminals is difficult -- many are in foreign lands, others have protected themselves through layers of legalities, and, indeed, if a gullible senior gives away his credit card information, he's handing over a bundle of cash, and where's the crime? The only real defense is prevention.

Since the scam artists are artists, they generate new and creative ways to make their e-mail fishing expeditions profitable. Reporting on each scheme is yesterday's news -- by the time the police alert the media to one scam, the criminals are off on a different scheme.

The best protection is to be alert and to be suspicious. Be uncooperative and cranky.

Realize that no bank or credit card company will contact you by e-mail, or by telephone, and they will certainly not ask for personal information -- if they need to, they will ask you to a personal meeting at a bank.

Do not give anyone on the phone or e-mail any information. Don't be afraid of appearing rude. In these cases, rudeness is good!

Do not give any -- none at all -- personal information, not your telephone number and address, and certainly not your SIN, credit card, or bank account numbers. Pleas from " stranded relatives"? You've won a million euros? Hit Delete.

Likewise for purchases, home repairs, travel bargains, etc -- if it sounds too good to be true, it's not true. Ask contractors for references -- and check out those references. Check with the local Chamber of Commerce. Get a second opinion or price quote.

We often receive letters about scams involving roof painting, barn painting, window replacement, and so forth, and although there are honest people providing these services, it is up to you to make sure you are dealing with the good buys, and not the vermin.

Do not download free apps unless you know them specifically. Forget Facebook contests or "promotions" -- they want information-and avoid "scareware", fake antivirus software which can be a virus. Use reputable services only.

Most important: trust your gut feelings or the hairs on the back of your neck. If any request or offer makes you feel uneasy, trust those feelings! Your inner good sense and your own unconscious will not lead you astray, and if your suspicions lead nowhere -- if the offer is legitimate -- all you have lost is a little time. That time and delay are worth it; the sense of security such thoroughness will give you is wonderful.

Copyright © 2011 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/11.11