Christmas is coming, and money exchanging hands. Yet there are plenty of transactions consumers will want to avoid.
From the start of November through Nov. 27, or “Cyber Monday,” police in Fort Mill saw 14 cases of fraud, identity theft, swindling, confidence gaming, forgery and the like. Seven incidents in the last week of that span, and three on the last day.
Officer Johnathan Gilbert sends a monthly newsletter out to the community. It was no coincidence the most recent one dealt with identity theft, “phishing” scams and protecting valuables.
“The holidays are a special time for families and crooks,” Gilbert said.
More than a dozen locals know it well.
Recent reports to Fort Mill police vary. Some were fairly standard crimes. A woman had her wallet stolen at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites lobby and soon her $330 prepaid card was cleaned out, $40 in cash gone and two $125 ATM withdrawals were popping up in Charlotte. In another case, a man walked into Love’s Travel Plaza and bought a coffee, pack of crackers, cold medicine and two Red Bulls with a counterfeit $50 bill.
Some incidents were more elaborate.
In one of the phishing scams -- so called because the scams come over the phone -- one woman got a call from someone claiming to be from DirecTV. The caller had her name, address, phone and account numbers already. The caller offered a year of service for $240, through a bogus promotion with Amazon. The woman would have to purchase $240 in Amazon gift cards, then provide the activation numbers to the caller.
No such promotion exists.
One couple received a call from someone claiming to be with the company they use for computer security. The wife was told the company was going out of business, and they needed her banking information and pictures of her driver’s license to reimburse the couple $250. Another call came in saying the company sent too much money, asking the couple to buy $1,700 in Wal-mart gift cards and give the card numbers and activation codes.
The couple later realized no money had been deposited in their account.
Another woman got a call from someone offering a $9,000 loan with little to no interest. The man on the phone got her to give her name, address, date of birth, social security number and bank card information by claiming he would deposit $1,000 after she withdrew $947 and wired it to a man in Michigan. The caller asked for a second transaction before the woman called her bank, then threatened her by phone.
Not all incidents led to financial loss.
A woman had two accounts totaling $5,000 in credit taken out in her maiden name, but they were closed before being used. One woman‘s bank caught a man trying to deposit money from her account to his. Another woman was told by her bank someone tried to open a credit card in her name, and filed a police report about the attempt before yielding any information.
Yet the dangers are there.
According to a report, a man had his wallet taken from his home, then his business credit card used at Food Lion for $2,000 before another grocery store declined a $200 purchase. A woman had her credit card used twice at Lowe’s Home Improvement for $423.13.
Another woman had someone open a bank account and payday loan account with her information. She got mail from the payday lender stating she owed $3,000. The bank told her separate Old Navy and Forever 21 accounts were opened in her name, but no purchases made.
A woman who tried to purchase a vehicle on Facebook later found Facebook pages and profiles to be fake, she told police. A third-party set up for a money transfer was, too. The woman put $2,000 on four prepaid cards and sent them to the third party, who claimed to be customer service for the prepaid card company. That man hung up on police when they called his number.
Residents aren’t the only ones who can end up paying when crime hits. South State Bank had a woman pass a fraudulent check for $2,000. The woman, whose identification the thief used, reported her purse stolen several days prior, and the same vehicle information and fraudulent check transactions were reported at other bank locations in Rock Hill and Spartanburg.
Five days after the Fort Mill incident, another bad check came though South State. This one, for $995, had a woman with the account number and driver’s license belonging to a York woman the check was made out to, but who reported her purse stolen. The check allegedly was from another man who filed a fraud alert on his account.
For police, focus is not only on solving reported crimes, but helping to prevent them. They want people to be aware of surroundings, lock gifts and valuables in the trunk, limit cash on hand, deal only with holiday charities folks know or can learn about from other reputable groups, visit ATMs only in well-sit areas.
They also encourage strong and frequently updated online passwords, securing personal information and financial documents and warn against over-sharing whereabouts on social media.
There are good apps to protect mobile devices, and red flags to avoid email phishing scams, Gilbert said. Trustworthy companies won’t ask for information like account and social security numbers without having customers sign into their existing accounts. The IRS won’t ask for personal information through an unsolicited email.
“Remember that the holiday season is a season to be happy,” Gilbert said. “Happiness starts with safety and safety starts with you.”