Watch for Holiday Scams

LARAMIE – Seasonal scams are common this time of year from packages stolen off of porches, temporary seasonal employment, gift purchases and, in some cases gift selling. 

“Recently a Wyoming citizen told us she was scammed out of $200 when trying to sell something on Facebook Marketplace,” said Pat Wolfinbarger, a CyberWyoming co-founder. The citizen was convinced by the buyer to install the popular Zelle app and then the fake buyer sent a very convincing email impersonating Zelle saying that the buyer had overpaid the Wyomingite and needed a refund.  The branding and the wording were very similar to typical corporate jargon.

These are common stories during the holidays.

In December 2020 when COVID had shut down many craft fairs, a fraudster on Facebook was soliciting vendors to pay for tables at fairs in Gillette and Cheyenne.  Had the American Legion in Gillette not received a call from a vendor that regularly participated asking why table prices had increased, the Legion wouldn’t have known they were being impersonated.

“It is always a good idea to look up the number and call the source to see if the offer is real, especially if the offer feels a bit too good to be true,” said Wolfinbarger. 

For the fake buyer situation, Wolfinbarger recommends only taking cash, meeting potential buyers in public places like a grocery store parking lot, and never giving out extra contact information.  For instance, if the buyer has been direct messaging you on Facebook, stick with that method to communicate, don’t give them your phone number and email address.

The Federal Trade Commission issued an alert for job scams involving holiday seasonal workers.  Often retailers and delivery services do need extra help, but scammers take advantage of this as well.  The FTC reminds you that legitimate companies will never require an upfront payment of any kind to get the job and won’t ask you for your personal information right up front.  To investigate, always search online for the name of the company plus the word “scam” and ask your local bank representative if they have heard of any complaints.

Porch pirates are thieves that steal packages when they are left on your front door.  According to USA Today, Americans spent $9.12 billion on Black Friday online shopping, giving rise to a crime of opportunity for porch pirates. 

ADT Security Services reports that 36% of Americans have been victimized by porch pirates.

“While many Americans choose to install Ring Doorbells or wireless cameras that watch their front door, these should be installed safely,” said Wolfinbarger.  Doorbells and cameras that connect to the internet don’t have antivirus software on them and often have no protection measures at all.  They can be used as a means to get into your home’s wireless network and steal more sensitive information like your online banking credentials.

Wolfinbarger recommends installing all smart TVs, doorbells, cameras, and any device without antivirus software on a completely separate wireless network.  “Buying a separate wireless router for $50-$80 specifically for these less safe devices will separate it from your PCs and laptops, which contain your work and banking information. It is a bargain when you think about it,” he said.

The United States Postal Service also offers a free service called Informed Delivery.  Anyone can sign up online to see photos of your mail before it arrives, including packages. 

“Of course this [Informed Delivery types of services] could also be used by porch pirates. Someone else could sign up for the notifications of your mail,” said Wolfinbarger.  He went on to say that the best thing you can do is talk to your neighbors and offer to bring in their packages if they bring in yours.  “Cybersecurity is about community,” said Wofinbarger.

To be safe online, security experts recommend only purchasing from known websites and verifying identities of buyers/sellers and if someone asks you to pay them with a gift card or prepaid credit card it is almost always a scam.  “Shopping locally is also a good thing,” said Wolfinbarger.

Resources are available to ask questions.  The AARP Fraud Watch Network phone number is open to those of any age at 877-908-3360.  Local bank representatives often have a good handle on scams in the neighborhood and can provide great advice.

If a victim of fraud, contact your local law enforcement and report the crime to the FBI’s website at ic3.gov and the FTC’s website at reportfraud.ftc.gov.

“If you spot a scam, protect your friends, family and neighbors by reporting it phishing@cyberwyoming.org.  The CyberWyoming Alliance redacts the information and publishes it in a weekly Hacker’s Brief posted on WyoCan.org, sends it to multiple local Wyoming newspapers, and posts it on community Facebook pages,” said Wolfinbarger.

The CyberWyoming Alliance is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to cybersecurity awareness, education, and outreach for the average Wyomingite. www.cyberwyoming.org

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