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Don’t allow scammers to steal your Christmas

Many of us know the story of the Grinch who tried to steal Christmas from an unsuspecting village.

However, there are real-life scammers who want to take advantage of increased consumer activity around the holidays, steal identities and ruin what ought to be an enjoyable time of year.

While these scammers won’t be dropping down your chimney to steal gifts like the Grinch, they are lurking in the background.

This time of year can be a hectic season with preparing for celebrations, charitable giving and purchasing gifts, but it’s important to stay vigilant and protect sensitive information no matter how busy things get.

Spending just one minute to take precautions can save consumers hours of potential headaches, such as time spent on the phone with the bank to cancel credit cards linked to a breached account.

Many people open their hearts — and wallets — to charities around the holidays, but it’s imperative that prospective donors use their heads before donating.

Giving is born of generosity, but some scammers will prey on the goodwill of others and collect money under false pretenses.

Always ensure that the charity is legitimate and ask how much of the donation will support the intended cause. Donors should never feel pressured to donate immediately. Search an organization by name, particularly if it is unfamiliar.

Anyone who has questions about a charity’s legitimacy can review the Secretary of State’s website to see if the organization is registered to solicit donations in West Virginia.

Consumers also should exercise caution when shopping online. While it’s a great way to skip the lines at stores, the convenience can bring some risk.

To avoid personal information falling into the wrong hands, ensure the web address starts with “https://”. The “s” verifies the connection is secure.

This is particularly important to keep in mind when consumers find offers of coupons or gift cards on social media sites. Clicking the link in a phony ad could redirect shoppers to an unsecured site that is not affiliated with the actual retailer.

Consumers should be wary of any offer that seems too good to be true, no matter where — or what time of year — it appears.

We all know someone who’s difficult to shop for, so a gift card may be a good option for the picky people on your list.

However, scammers can tamper with gift cards and lie in wait for the unknowing recipient to activate the card. That’s when the thief will create a counterfeit card or make purchases without the card in hand.

Purchase gift cards from behind the customer service counter whenever possible. Inspect the gift card and check for any signs of tampering, such as PIN numbers that have been scratched off. If the card is for a designated amount, ask for the card to be scanned at the register to verify its full value.

Protecting financial information is important all year long, but it can be easy to neglect, especially at this busy time of year.

Staying alert for scams can ease worries and help your holiday reach its full potential. Give yourself the gift of security this holiday season.

(Patrick Morrisey is the Attorney General of West Virginia.)

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