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Beware of ‘secret Santa’ shopping ploy

Two Lanesville residents recently contacted Lanesville Police Chief Melvin (Lee) Hancock about being on the end of scams.

“This is nothing new; scammers have been around for a long time,” Hancock said. “There are just different angles.”

Seeking “secret Santa” shoppers appears to be common this time of year.

Hancock said the scammers generally make contact through emails looking for people to go to various stores to write reviews about products and offering pay via check for a week’s worth of work.

“The money they’re receiving is absolutely bogus,” he said. “They play on people’s desperation.”

The “shoppers” are asked to buy gift cards and call to give the card number and code to the scammer.

“They think they still have a valuable card, but they don’t,” Hancock said of those who fall victim to this type of scam. “They find out in a few days … they’re often out $300 to $500 or more.”

Hancock said it’s “almost always” bogus when someone is asked to do anything with a gift card.

“There’s little to nothing the police can do,” he said. “The bank can’t help you.”

Also, spoofing devices allow scammers to appear to be calling from any phone number of their choosing, and they most often use post office boxes, which they obtain with a fake name and address.

Hancock urges residents not to give gift card numbers to anyone, as “within seconds (the cards) are worthless.”

He also encourages them to annually check their credit report. Three major bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — allow one free check per year.

“If there’s an account you don’t need any more, close it,” Hancock suggested.

Fraud can be reported to the Federal Trade Commission by calling 1-877-438-4338.

“Most people have caught on to this type of scam,” Hancock said. However, “the holiday season is the worse. That’s followed by tax season.

“Be cautious and think before acting,” he said.