UPDATED: Here’s the difference between ‘Shop with a Cop’ scams and legitimate donation sources

Stock image | Photo by AntonioGuillem/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Santa Clara-Ivins Police issued a warning Friday of an old scam with a new twist hitting the Southern Utah community involving fraudsters asking for donations under the guise of helping children — just one of many scams circulating this holiday season.

Update 4:15 p.m. See update below for information about legitimate donations sources for Shop with a Cop.

The police department says it’s receiving reports of a call-based financial scam involving individuals attempting to solicit money for the department’s “Shop with a Cop” program, according to an alert posted on the agency’s Facebook page.

Police departments throughout Washington County do not solicit funds for the event, and Santa Clara-Ivins Police do not ask for money over the phone.

UPDATE: Legitimate donation sources vs. scams

This report addresses a particular scam in which residents are called directly by a third party that is not authorized to raise or collect money for the Shop with a Cop program. There are many legitimate fundraising efforts currently underway by businesses throughout Washington County.

Participants in a legitimate “Shop with a Cop” program in Southern Utah, Dec. 16, 2017 | File photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

As such, while donations can be made directly to the local law enforcement agencies listed below, donations can also be made to local businesses that are helping to sponsor Shop with a Cop and other charitable holiday programs.

These businesses are legitimately working with the agencies involved to raise the money needed to purchase toys and other items for needy children within the community.

Police department donation locations

  • Santa Clara-Ivins Police Department, 2603 Santa Clara Drive, Santa Clara.
  • St. George Police Department, 265 N. 200 East, St. George.
  • Hurricane Police Department, 90 S. 700 West, Hurricane.
  • Washington City Police Department, 135 N. 100 East, Washington City.

In addition to donating to business sponsors, a check or cash can be dropped off at any of the police departments listed above. Checks should be made out to “Shop with a Cop,” and donations are tax-deductible.

Tis the season for scammers

The Shop with a Cop scam is one among many scams threatening to take the cheer out of the holidays. At this time of year, criminals come out in full force, constantly deploying more creative ways to separate people from their money.

Poster depicting “12 scams of Christmas” | Image courtesy of the Better Business Bureau, St. George News

In hopes of helping consumers avoid falling victim to such scams, the Better Business Bureau offers the following “12 Scams of Christmas.”

No. 1 – Look-alike websites

Consumers will see an increase in the number of email alerts announcing deals, gifts and sales. Even though many come-ons look real, scammers send impersonations that include links that may lead to look-alike websites used to trick a person into providing private information or to download malware onto the recipient’s computer.

Before clicking on any link that comes in an email, review the sender’s address and look for misspellings throughout the email. Hover the mouse over links without clicking to see where they lead. Only enter sensitive information into a website that begins with “https” as the “s” informs you that it’s secure and information entered is encrypted.

No. 2 – Social media gift exchange

Social media gift exchange scams are similar to the classic chain letter gifting scheme or the Secret Sister Gift Exchange. These scams call for people to send one gift to a stranger, and in return the sender will receive 36 gifts, books or even wine from other strangers. The structure of the gift-giving scheme is so that those at the start of the chain may get gifts, but those at the bottom never will, much like a pyramid scheme.

It may seem harmless, but chain letters are also illegal if they request money or other items of value and promise a substantial return because they are considered a form of gambling, according to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Sending them through the mail violates Title 18, United States Code, Section 1302 of the Postal Lottery Statute.

No. 3 – Grandparent scams

In this scam, the bad guys target seniors by posing as a grandchild who claims they have been in an accident, arrested or hospitalized and they need money. Call family members and confirm that the call is authentic before sending any money.

No. 4 – Temporary holiday jobs

Scammers will post fake job listings in an attempt to steal personal information from applicants. Clicking links for applications can be risky. Instead, the BBB recommends applying for a job in person or by going directly to the company’s website.

No. 5 – Free gift cards

Beware of emails or pop-up offers promoting a freebie gift card. These can be used by scammers to get personal information when the link is clicked or download malware onto the user’s computer or device.

If you do click on a pop-up ad, close the ad, shutdown the app or browsing program and then clear the browsing history.

No. 6 – E-cards

Be cautious when opening e-cards. Scammers may send what appears to be an e-card that when opened can download malicious software or redirect the user to a site that requires personal information before seeing the card.

If you receive a card from an unknown sender, don’t open it. Even if it appears to have come from a friend, send them a separate email or call them and ask if they sent it before opening.

No. 7 – Fake shipping notifications

Shipping updates are commonly sent legitimately, while others may be phishing scams.

“False notification emails often use a legitimate businesses name and logo to trick you into opening the email and allowing thieves to gain access to personal information and passwords,” the BBB states.

Most online vendors provide tracking information available directly on their website, and since shipping costs were paid for at the time of the order, they shouldn’t need to be paid again.

No. 8 – Phony charities

Many fraudsters create fake charities or impersonate a legitimate one and ask for credit card numbers and other personal information. Before giving, do some homework and check the charity out on Give.orgCharityNavigator.org or GuideStar.org.

No. 9 – Letters from Santa

There are plenty of real companies that send children letters from Santa just in time for Christmas, but there are also fraudsters setting up legitimate-looking websites or sending emails with an offer that is actually a means to get their hands on private information that can be used in scams or identity theft.

Verify that the company is legitimate by checking with the Better Business Bureau at BBB.org to see if there are any complaints against the company. A quick Google search can help as well.

No. 10 – Unusual forms of payment

Requests for prepaid debit cards, gift cards and wire transfers are all red flags and can’t be traced or undone, so it’s a good idea to think twice about making any purchases using these methods.

No. 11 – Travel scams

Many holiday travel offers are scams. Be particularly wary of email offers, particularly those coming from an unknown source — never wire money to anyone you don’t know and ask for references before a payment is made.

No. 12 – Puppy scams

There are some obvious warning signs that indicate a puppy sale is likely a scam. If there is a photo of the puppies, do an image search by using the image’s URL or upload the photo to Google Images. If the photo appears on multiple websites, it’s probably a scam. Research accredited breeders and pricing beforehand — if the price appears too good to be true, it probably is.

With any online purchase, use a credit or debit card for payment, as these charges can be disputed. Avoid using money orders, Western Union or Moneygram to pay for purchases on the web.

“When it comes to any type of scam, at any time of year, we suggest you trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, do more homework or buy from another vendor,” Scambusters.org states.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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