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Avoid Holiday Scams, 'Grinches,' 12 Tips From St. Louis BBB

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(via Flickr/Rojer)

Midwesterners are often known for their kindness and, unfortunately, some people take advantage of it, especially during the holidays.

Host Don Marsh talked with Bill Smith, an investigator for the St. Louis Better Business Bureau.

They addressed ways to avoid becoming the victim of so-called “grinches,” including these twelve tips to outsmart scammers.

1. Pay Attention to the Requested Method of Payment.

“If you’re dealing with a stranger - somebody who you have not met in person, or a business that you don’t know as a legitimate business - [and] if they insist that payment be made via a Western Union transfer... that’s almost a 100% signal of a scam. If somebody is asking you to use a credit card, a PayPal transfer, or a personal check, that’s going to be more legitimate.”

2. Only Transfer To People You Trust.

“Scammers in the past would require payment via Western Union or Moneygram.  At the BBB, we are finding more and more that the method of cash transfer preferred by scammers outside of the U.S. is Green Dot MoneyPak. You can pick them up at Wal-mart, and Walgreens stores, pretty much anywhere. You can put money on them, and then all the person needs is a PIN number and then they can unload from anywhere. People who have not heard of these believe they are safe.  You should never transfer money this way unless you know exactly who you’re transferring to.”

3. Beware of Impersonators.

“We’ve had people in our country and outside of our country impersonating big businesses.  You have to be careful to make sure you’re dealing with the company you think you’re dealing with.  You can certainly check with our office to find out whether it’s a legitimate business.”

4. Check Your Charities.

“This is a big time for pleas. Oftentimes a telemarketer will call and say, ‘I’m sure in the season of giving you would like to make a charitable contribution for the sake of breast cancer or needy children,’ [but] people don’t know: if there is a direct mailer or phone campaign, most of the money [can] end up in the pockets of fundraisers. We’ve done studies that show up to 95 cents of every dollar [can go] to the people raising the money.’  A good charity is a charity that is going to be extremely transparent. If they call you on the phone they should be more than willing to send you written information about what they do.”

5. Mind Your Physical Belongings.

“Malls are very crowded; shopping centers are very crowded at this time of year. If you’re struggling with a lot of gifts and you set your purse down or you’re not being as careful as you should be with your wallet, it’s becoming very easy now for thieves to get ahold of credit card numbers and debit cards or, of course, to take your wallet and purse.”

6. Pay With a Credit Card...

“We always at the BBB recommend that if at all possible you pay with a credit card.  If you bought an item with a credit card and did not receive it, you can appeal. Most credit card companies will put the money back into your account if it’s a scam.”

7. ...And Monitor your Account statements.

“Know the time limits of making an appeal with your own credit card company, whether its 90 days or 120 days. Often these [scam] companies will try to string you on so you can’t go back to the credit card company and appeal because it’s too late.”

8. Inquire About Emails, Even from People You “Know”

“They become increasingly sophisticated.  These people will email you very professional, personal looking contracts [saying], “You just need to sign them and pay this amount.”

9. Keep an Eye Out for the Elderly

“Elderly people are probably the most vulnerable. Anybody with potentially a hearing disability, anybody who has potentially not seen anybody for a while and hears their voice...they want to help...it becomes an emotional situation.”

10. Don’t be Embarrassed to Report.

“A lot of people are embarrassed to report that they have been scammed.  It’s difficult to know how much money is lost.  We have heard of situations in the St. Louis area where people lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. These people haven’t wanted to come forth and be public; we’ve not been able to put them into releases.”

11. If You’re Suspicious, Call the BBB ASAP.

“The feeling we have at the BBB is that people are very suspicious at first. But then what happens is, they may send $1000 and think ‘Oh, I’ve already lost $1000 so on the chance that this may be real, I might as well give them a little bit more.’

The St. Louis Better Business Bureau phone number is 314-645-3300 and they have live operators.

12. Be vigilant year round.

“It’s not just the holidays.”

With assistance from Ariana Tobin

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
Mary Edwards came to St. Louis Public Radio in 1974, just after finishing her Bachelor of Music degree at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She has served the station in a number of capacities over the years. From 1988-2014 she also taught an undergraduate class in radio production at Webster University. Mary was inducted into the St. Louis Media History Foundation Media Hall of Fame in April, 2017 and received the Gateway Media Literacy Partners' Charles Klotzer Media Literacy Award in 2012. Mary retired from St. Louis Public Radio in 2018, but still serves the station as a St. Louis Symphony Producer.
Don Marsh served as host of St. Louis Public Radio’s “St. Louis on the Air" from 2005 to 2019, bringing discussions of significant topics to listeners' ears at noon Monday through Friday. Don has been an active journalist for 58 years in print, radio and television. He has won 12 Regional Emmy Awards for writing, reporting, and producing. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, was inducted into the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame in 2013, and named “Media Person of the Year” by the St. Louis Press Club in 2015. He has published three books: his most recent, “Coming of Age, Liver Spots and All: A Humorous Look at the Wonders of Getting Old,” “Flash Frames: Journey of a Journeyman Journalist” and “How to be Rude (Politely).” He holds an honorary Doctor of Arts and Letters degree from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

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