Experts caution against holiday scams

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 6, 1999

Managing Editor

Dec. 6, 1999 11 PM

While the holidays are a time of shopping, fun and gift giving and receiving, they can quickly turn into a financial nightmare for people who aren’t cautious about giving out personal information over the telephone.

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"What we see this time of year are people who call people with telephone offers," said Dianna Lee, marketing director for Troy Bank & Trust. "These offers are sometimes accompanied by requests for personal information, including credit card numbers and social security numbers. Consumers should be aware that this is a common technique for scam artists."

Troy Police Department public information officer Sgt. Benny Scarbrough said people should be guarded about giving out personal information.

"Common sense is the consumer’s best friend," he said. "We want people to be aware that doing business over the phone with some you don’t know is as crazy as buying a car that you’ve never seen or driven. Know who you’re dealing with when you do business."

Holidays are particularly hot when it comes to scams due to the increase in purchasing that is going on.

"Anytime you see things that bring about changes in patterns of spending, you see more opportunity for crooks to victimize consumers," Scarbrough said. "This means that people should be mindful of the information they give out."

Lee says that credit card numbers and Social Security should never be given out as a rule.

"This kind of information is very personal and could give people access to a lot of personal information," she said. "Legitimate businesses aren’t going to call and ask you for a Social Security number or a credit card number."

Lee said the best policy when dealing with telemarketers about such information is to decline, and if the offer is good and legitimate, get a contact number and call back after checking the background of the business.

"Any information that leaves potential for fraud should not be handed out," she said. "People don’t need to know these sorts of things."

Scarbrough said information handed out should make sense.

"If someone is in an emergency and calls the police department, we are going to ask for an address and a phone number. In this case, that information makes sense," he said. "But there’s a trust factor there and you know who you’re dealing with. When you don’t, don’t give out anything that could be damaging."

Scarbrough said people need to treat callers as they would treat strangers unless there is an element of trust and a relationship between the caller and the consumer has been established.

"It’s basic common sense," he said. "Don’t tell people over the phone what your credit card number is or what your social security number is unless there is a legitimate need for that information. And there aren’t many situations I can think of that involve a need of that nature."

Scarbrough recommends asking to speak to a supervisor or taking a number and returning the call at a later time if the offer is irresistable. Still, he cautions consumers about letting that information out.

"You are always safer when you do business face to face," he said. "This is something that needs to be handled with common sense. It’s like encouraging a kid not to talk to strangers. There are some perfectly good strangers out there. And there are some pretty bad ones too."

Scarbrough encourages consumers who get a lot of solicitation calls to contact the Alabama Public Service Commission to have their named put on a blocker list that is distributed to telemarketers.

"This helps people who don’t want these calls and don’t want to have to worry about them get away from them," he said.

The number to call is 1-800-567-2024. For information about the PSC plan, call Jan Cook’s office at (334) 242-5211.